After two and a half years of unsuccessfully pursuing a resolution through the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court, lawyers representing indigenous villagers in a civil suit against Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney plan to advise their clients to settle.
Sourng Sophea, the lead lawyer with legal aid NGO Community Legal Education Center representing the villagers, said by telephone Thursday that the suit, filed in January 2007 over 450 hectares of disputed land in O’Yadaw district’s Kong Yu village, has dragged on too long with no end in sight.
“We want one chance to solve the case fast,” Mr Sophea said, adding that Investigating Judge Thor Sarorn had recommended the “compromise” to CLEC staffers in a meeting last month. “Going through the court, it will just be stuck, so it will take a long time,” Mr Sophea said, adding that he will inform the villagers of CLEC’s recommendation later this month.
Yort Bunny, a project officer at CLEC who met Judge Sarorn on May 19, said Thursday that the judge had complained about difficulties surrounding the case. “He showed his worries after he told Lok Chumteav Keat Kolney to stop bulldozing, don’t grow [more rubber trees], but later on, they were still growing and he didn’t know what to do,” Mr Bunny said.
He added that Judge Sarorn said that Ms Kolney has offered to build a school, a hospital and water wells for the villagers.
Judge Sarorn declined to discuss his views on the case and denied recommending a compromise.
“For this case, as I understand, the issue is that one [way] is not more important than the other,” he said. Judge Sarorn added that both sides involved in the case have refused to cooperate, making his job more difficult.
Sev Khem, a villager representative, said that villagers would not compromise, as previous negotiations in Phnom Penh had repeatedly failed. “[Villagers] want all the land back—we didn’t sell to anyone,” Ms Khem said.
Ms Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol said that he has always welcomed a compromise. “Since the beginning, compromise is better,” he said.