The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court announced August 31 that it will issue summons to 12 villagers and Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, setting the stage for a long-anticipated land-dispute trial.
“They will come to court on [September] 3rd to do their preparatory proceeding for oral arguments, and then there will be a trial that follows,” said An Samnang, investigating judge for the case.
The 12 ethnic Jarai villagers filed lawsuits in January charging that they were tricked and pressured out of 450 hectares of land in Kong Yu village in O’Yadaw district’s Pate Commune in 2004. The villagers claim that they only agreed to give up 50 hectares, which they believed was being given to disabled soldiers on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Keat Kolney has built a rubber plantation on the disputed land.
Huon Chundy, a program manager for NGO Community Legal Education Center, which provides attorneys for the 12 villagers, said that the move by the court is an important first step. “This is positive because the court is starting to work,” he said. “But we are still waiting to see more.”
Chhe Vibol, Keat Kolney’s attorney, said that his client does not believe that she should return the land. “[Keat Kolney’s] stance is the same—nothing has changed,” he said, adding that he will participate in the negotiations, but his client will not be present.
CLEC attorney Ith Mathoura, who represents the villagers, said that his clients are determined to get the entire 450 hectares of land back.
“Their objective is still the same —nothing has changed,” he said, adding that if both sides could not reach an agreement during the meeting, An Samnang would have to decide between continuing negotiations or setting a court date for the case.