R’kiri Officials Fail To Show for Land-Grab Case

Four Ratanakkiri province officials have twice failed to appear at the provincial court after being summoned to testify in a land dispute involving Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney, a court official said Tuesday.

O’Yadaw district governor Heng Bunthan, Pate commune councilors Roman Porng and Pov Sar, as well as Kong Yu village chief Phoy Svagn, were summoned to appear Thursday and again Tues­day but failed to do so on both occasions, said Prak Soeurn, clerk to the court’s prosecutor Mey Sokhan.

Prak Soeurn said the summonses had all been sent out via taxi as usual but went unanswered.

“They didn’t come,” Prak Soeurn said of the officials, adding that there was no guarantee the summonses were successfully delivered. “Now we have summoned them to come on [April] 20th,” he added.

Twelve ethnic Jarai villagers Jan 23 filed complaints against Keat Kolney, accusing her, the four summoned officials and three others of illegally acquiring 270 hectares of land from them in August 2004. A representative of Keat Kolney and officials connected to the controversial land deal have denied any wrongdoing.

Mey Sokhan declined comment Tuesday, saying the case remained under investigation.

Contacted by telephone Tues­day, Heng Bunthan said he had not received the court summons. He added that if he were summoned to the court he would testify that the sale of the land to Keat Kolney was legal.

“The villagers sold this land,” he claimed. Roman Porng, Pov Sar and Phoy Svagn could not be reached for comment.

Legal Aid of Cambodia lawyer Ny Chandy, who represents some of the villagers in the case, said he believed the officials had received the summonses but are refusing to go to court. “They just don’t want to come,” he said.

Community Legal Education Center attorney Ith Mathoura, also representing villagers in the case, said that if the four officials fail to appear after a third summons the court should issue arrest warrants.

Court Director Yar Narin said penalties for failure to comply with a summons were unclear and that judges had discretion in dealing with such cases.


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