Four pro-bono attorneys defending Ratanakkiri province villagers in a land dispute with Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney have resigned from the Community Legal Education Center.
CLEC Program Manager Huon Chundy said Thursday that lawyer Chou Vineath left the NGO in August while three others, Eang Sopheak, Nuon Sokchea and Seng Sokhim, quit in September.
Sev Khem, a representative of the ethnic minority Jarai farmers embroiled in the dispute with Keat Kolney, said they are wondering why the attorneys quit the case.
“I wonder why they stopped, I don’t know if they are afraid,” she said, adding: “The case in our village is a hot issue.”
The Jarai villagers claim that Keat Kolney fooled them out of 450 hectares of O’Yadaw district land to build a rubber plantation, charges she has denies CLEC staffers denied that the litigation contributed to the departures. “They have new jobs,” Huon Chundy said.
CLEC Director Yeng Virak said the departures were a matter of normal staff turnover. “They stopped for personal reasons,” he said, adding: “In NGOs, some come and go.”
In June, Keat Kolney filed a complaint with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia against seven CLEC and three Legal Aid of Cambodia lawyers, who she accused of inciting villagers to file complaints against her. That same month she filed a criminal complaint against the Jarai villagers and their lawyers, accusing them of fraud and incitement.
Bar association spokesman Nou Tharith said that as Keat Kolney filed her complaint against individual lawyers and not CLEC, the four who left the legal-aid NGO are still subject to the bar’s on-going investigation.
Huon Chundy said that CLEC is looking for at least five new lawyers to continue the Keat Kolney case. “We will continue doing our work,” he said.
Lawyer Eang Sopheak said Thursday that he left CLEC to create his own law firm. “It is not related to the Ratanakkiri case,” he added. Lawyer Nuon Sokchea declined to comment.