Latest Meeting Fails To Break R’kiri Case Deadlock

Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney held a tense, two-and-a-half-hour meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday afternoon with three lawyers representing Ratanakkiri province villagers with whom she is involved in a long-running land dispute, the lawyers said.

“It was not fruitful,” Commun­ity Legal Education Center lawyer Chhit Vinea said after the meeting.

Keat Kolney said that she would give back 50 hectares of the disputed land, located in O’Yadaw district, while villagers are holding fast that they will cede only 50 hectares of land, on the condition that it is used by Prime Minister Hun Sen for disabled soldiers, CLEC lawyer Eang Sopheak said.

Chhe Vibol, a lawyer for Keat Kol­ney, said he was outside Phnom Penh and was unaware of the meeting. CLEC lawyers de­clined to say where the meeting took place. A woman answering Keat Kolney’s phone on Monday evening hung up on a reporter.

Ny Chandy, an attorney from Legal Aid of Cambodia also working on the case, claimed Monday that Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has been dragging its feet on the case because the dispute involves powerful individuals.

Ny Chandy said he filed a court injunction on Feb 5 to prevent further clearance of the land and block Keat Kolney from selling on the disputed property. He said Monday that the injunction has not been issued.

“The legal procedure is slow,” he said, adding: “I think it is because the other side has senior officials.”

An Samnang, an investigating judge at the court, denied Ny Chandy’s claims, saying he had not issued an injunction because he wanted to leave time for the two sides to negotiate.

“Lawyers from all sides have requested to meet with each other and compromise, how can I issue [an injunction]?,” he maintained.

Villagers claim that in 2004, local officials deceived and co­erced about 70 families into signing away some 450 hectares of their farmland. The villagers say they thought they were giving 50 hectares to a group of disabled soldiers affiliated with Hun Sen.

But bulldozers then arrived and cut through 270 hectares of the disputed land to make way for a rubber plantation owned by Keat Kolney, who is also wife of Ministry of Land Management Secretary of State Chhan Saphan, villagers said.

“How can the company grab our land…and in return give us only 50 hectares back. It’s not fair,” Sev Kem, a Jarai minority villager from Kong Yu village, said Sunday.

Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol said on Monday that clearance on the disputed property has been suspended and that there are no plans to sell.

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