Media Said To Favor Keat Kolney in Dispute

NGO attorneys representing Ra­ta­nakkiri villagers embroiled in a long-running land dispute with Fi­nance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney have denounced a se­ries of news reports recently ap­pearing in Khmer-language media as biased in favor of Keat Kolney.

Last week, reporters for several prominent print and television outfits were invited by Keat Kolney’s com­pany to the disputed area in O’Yadaw district’s Pate commune, ac­cording to reporters that went on the trip. Keat Kolney’s attorney, Chhe Vibol, denied Tuesday that the company invited reporters to the site, saying that they all decided to journey there on their own.

Beginning Saturday, a number of reports have been published in Khmer-language papers claiming that the NGOs Legal Aid of Cam­bo­dia and the Community Legal Ed­u­cation Center had incited a “handful” of villagers against Keat Kolney to complain over the 450 hectares of community land. The Kampuchea Thmey Daily newspaper Tuesday published an article on the issue with the headline, “NGOs Are Behind a Land Dispute in Rubber Plantation.”

LAC attorney Hang Som Orn said the papers showed un­due bias toward Keat Kolney, ad­ding that more than 40 families in Kong Yu village had complained about the loss of the land, not just a “handful.”

CLEC attorney Sourng Sophea said it was totally inaccurate to claim that NGOs had incited the villagers because residents began complaining to the authorities in 2004, two years before they re­ques­ted NGO assistance.

Chhe Vibol reiterated that the jour­­nalists had merely reported what they discovered. He said he had also filed a counter complaint with the provincial court Nov 6 against a court injunction secured by the villagers Oct 28 calling for the company to stop clearing disputed grassland.

Despite a court injunction, the com­­pany continued for several days to clear the land be­cause the court hadn’t officially de­liv­ered its or­der to the company. Chhe Vibol said Tuesday that he was filing his counter complaint even though the disputed grassland had already been fully cleared by the company.

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