R’kiri Land Dispute Villagers Approached for Deal

Ratanakkiri province villagers em­broiled in a land dispute involving Keat Kolney, Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister, have been ap­­­proached by several people asking them to agree to an out-of-court settlement, a villager representative and rights worker said.

Twelve Jarai minority villagers filed a complaint at the provincial court in January, seeking legal action against Keat Kolney and seven others for allegedly obtaining their Pate commune land illegally in August 2004. A representative of Keat Kolney has denied the allegation, saying the land, which is now a rubber plantation, is a model for other rural investors.

Sev Kem, one of the 12 villagers, said Monday that two men ap­proached the villagers several times in January and this month asking to set up a meeting to resolve the dis­pute outside court.

Sev Kem also claimed that a wo­man identifying herself as Keat Kolney telephoned her March 4, asking for a compromise and say­ing she has spent a lot of money de­veloping the land. “There are several other middlemen who also called me for a compromise over the land dispute with that lady,” Sev Kem said.

Im Sam Ath, a representative of Keat Kolney, said Friday that he was unaware whether Keat Kolney or anyone else had contacted the villagers. He also said his main focus now is to plant rubber on the disputed land, which he reiterated was purchased legally. “I continue planting every day because there is no reason to stop,” he said.

Sev Rith, who identified himself as an O’Yadaw district official, claimed Keat Kolney spoke to the villagers using his phone earlier this month. Keat Kolney was not seeking a compromise, but simply wanted to know how the court case was going, Sev Rith said. “She just needs to know the progress of the court in dealing with the villagers’ complaints,” he said.

Ny Chandy, a Legal Aid of Cam­bodia attorney, also said Monday that people have been urging the 12 villagers to drop the complaint.

Mey Sokhan, the court’s prosecutor, said he has invited all parties in the case for questioning. “We are not going to ignore the complaint,” he said.

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