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.