R’kiri Villagers Claim Forest Cleared Despite Court Order

Workers from Keat Kolney’s com­pany, the Agricultural De­vel­op­­ment Association, have re­sumed clearing disputed land in Ra­tanak­­kiri province, a breach of promises made in the provincial court, ac­cor­d­ing to lawyers for local residents.

In 2004, ethnic Jarai villagers claimed that Keat Kolney, who is Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister, duped them into giving up 450 hectares of community land in O’Yadaw district, Pate commune, Kong Yu village.

Keat Kolney’s rubber plantation now covers 270 hectares of the disputed land, while the remainder still consists of villagers’ farms, “spir­it forest” and burial grounds, according to a statement from Le­g­al Aid of Cambodia and the Com­munity Legal Education Center.

Chai Ty, an activist with local rights group Adhoc, said that since Oct 23, he has seen Keat Kolney’s workers clear grass on a section of disputed land.

The workers claimed that they were trying to prevent wild fires, Chai Ty said, but added that their work disrupted the villagers’ adjacent farmland.

“She had promised in front of the prosecutor that she would not clear the disputed land until the case was decided,” said Sourng Sophea, a lawyer for CLEC. “Now she broke that promise.”

Hang Som Orn, a lawyer for Le­gal Aid of Cambodia, said he was traveling to meet Ratanakkiri Judge Thao Sarorn on Monday to request an injunction to halt the company’s activities on the disputed land.

Thao Sarorn is the third trial judge assigned to the case, af­ter Judge On Samnang was transfer­red outside the province and Judge Yar Narin was removed from the case for failing to move it forward.

Keat Kolney’s representative Som Art hung up when contacted for comment. Neither Judge Thao Sarorn nor Keat Kol­ney’s lawyer, Chhe Vibol, could be reached.

Provincial Prosecutor Mey Sok­han said he did not know about the latest developments in the case, but said that he has delayed court proceedings on the matter at the request of provincial authorities, who prefer that the case be resolved outside the courts. (Additional reporting by Rollo Romig)

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