Minister’s Sister Accused of Land-Grabbing

Nearly 50 families in Ratanakkiri province have filed a complaint with local rights group Adhoc ac­cusing the sister of Finance Minis­ter Keat Chhon of illegally clearing their farmland in O’Yadaw district, an Adhoc official said.

The 48 ethnic minority families say they sold Keat Kolney 50 hec­tares of land in Pate commune’s Kong Yoak village in 2004, but claim she has since grabbed 500 hec­tares, and has so far cleared 300 hectares, Adhoc Provincial Coordi­nator Pen Bonnar said Monday.

“Villagers claimed they will make complaints and send them to the National Assembly, the Senate, the Ministry of Justice, [Prime Min­ister] Hun Sen and other concern­ed dep­art­ments because those ethnic mi­nority villagers are cheated,” he said.

Pen Bonnar said each of the 48 famil­ies were given $400 for their land, and that local authorities ap­pear to have assisted Keat Kol­ney, who is also the wife of Ministry of Land Man­agement Secretary of State Chhan Saphan, in her acquisition.

Keat Kolney, Chhan Saphan and Keat Chhon could not be contacted on Monday or Tuesday.

Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Muong Poy confirmed that Keat Kol­ney is Keat Chhon’s sister, and said that she purchased 500 hec­tares from the villagers in 2004 to plant a rubber nursery.

“The people actually sold 500 hec­tares,” Muong Poy said.

“No commune council members or other local officials [forced] them to accept money,” Muong Poy said, add­­ing that the villagers may have been persuaded by un­identified out­si­d­ers to make their complaint against Keat Kolney.

“Those families may be incited by other persons to demand more [mon­ey], which is why they prepare a new complaint against her, a legal land title holder,” he said.

Provincial officials received a similar complaint in late 2004 from the vil­­lagers, which was investigated, he said.

“We found out that those villagers really accepted money and were photographed and [they] thumb-printed a letter as evidence,” Muong Poy said, reiterating that the amount of land purchased—at a cost of some $19,000—was 500 hec­tares.

Mao Sann, police chief of O’Ya­daw district, accused the villagers of trying to grab land.

“Villagers want more money so they accused the land-title holder of making false land titles,” he said.

Sear Kimphan, a 52-year-old ethnic minority villager claiming to represent the families, said they were intimidated by village chiefs and commune councilors into signing over their land to Keat Kolney.

“We would have received nothing if we declined to sell, Sear Kimphan said. “[Keat Kolney] is using her power to grab our land.”

 

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