Prints Doubted In Keat Kolney Land Dispute

Thumbprints on a contract at the center of a four-year-old land dispute between ethnic minority villagers and Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney should be authenticated, a lawyer for the Ratanakkiri province residents said Monday.

Villagers in O’Yadaw district’s Pate commune have alleged that Keat Kolney duped them out of 450 hectares of communally owned land in 2004 by leading them to believe that the blank sheets of paper they had thumbprinted were to donate 50 hectares of land to house disabled soldiers.

Only 46 families reside in Kong Yu village, though the final contract in the contested sale bears 101 thumbprints, Soung Sophea, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the case, said Monday.

Soung Sophea said his side had in November 2007 asked the case’s previous investigating judge, An Samnang, to authenticate the thumbprints on the sale contracts.

The plaintiffs are today to submit a letter to renew the request for fingerprint authentication to the case’s new magistrate, Judge Yar Narin, who is also a judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber, Soung Sophea added.

“We’re asking the judge to order that the villagers’ thumb­prints be authenticated,” he said. “The villagers don’t believe those thumbprints are theirs.”

Yar Narin said in April he would cease on-site investigations after the parties declined to pay local officials’ travel costs on an excursion to measure the area in question, a measurement that ultimately did not occur.

Reached by telephone, Yar Narin rebutted Soung Sophea’s claims, saying the thumbprints could not be authenticated unless the plaintiffs submitted sworn statements saying the prints are not genuine.

“No party has made any letter to the court to deny the thumbprints,” Yar Narin said.

Chhe Vibol, a lawyer for Keat Kolney, said Monday he suspected many redundant thumbprints were pressed on the documents by villagers seeking to be paid more than once for their land.

“We paid enough to buy from 100 families…. We just realized recently that there are only 46 families,” he said. “Some people thumbprinted two times.”


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