The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has dismissed a criminal lawsuit brought by ethnic Jarai villagers against Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney, which alleged she had conspired with local authorities to forge documents and engaged in other tricks that resulted in their losing 450 hectares of their ancestral communal land, officials said April 1.
The court’s prosecutor, Mey Sokhan, quietly dropped the two-year-old lawsuit on Feb 20, just days after he was moved to a new position as prosecutor at the Stung Treng Provincial Court, and the villagers were only informed on the morning of April 10, court clerk Prak Soeun said.
Mey Sokhan said that he was too busy to comment April 10.
Reading from Mr Mey Sokhan’s decision, the court clerk said that the prosecutor had based his decision on the fact that “Keat Kolney had bought the land from villagers with legal recognition from local authorities. Keat Kolney had paid money equally to each of the families for the land.”
Asked why the court waited until April 10 to inform villagers of the months old decision, Mr Prak Soeun would only say that it was not against the law to delay releasing such information.
Among the claims made by the villagers is that local authorities got them drunk and then had them put their fingerprints on blank sheets of paper, which were filled in later stating that they had agreed to sell their land to Ms Keat Kolney for just a few dollars per hectare.
Sev Khem, one of the six complainants, said Friday that she was surprised to learn the news after two years of legal battles, adding that she and other villagers would appeal the decision. “The court didn’t work for the villagers, people have no money for them, villagers are poor,” Ms Sev Khem said. “They have not given justice to the villagers, who are weak, stupid and poor,” she said of the court’s actions.
Legal aid lawyer Sourng Sophea said that if the villagers decide to appeal to dismissal of their lawsuit, it would require even more effort on their part because the Appeal Court is in Phnom Penh, nearly 600 km from Ratanakkiri.