R’kiri villagers hope billboard will promote court to action

Ethnic minority Jarai villagers said yesterday they plan to erect a billboard on the newly paved National Road 78 in Ratanakkiri province asking for the resolution of a long-running land dispute with the sister of Minister of Finance Keat Chhon.

They plan to install the roughly 0.7-by-1 meter sign at the turnoff from Route 78 to their Kong Yu village, which is in O’Yadaw district’s Pate commune, said villager Roman Hil.

Villagers will meet this week to raise the estimated $65 for the sign, he added.

“One of the key purposes of the proposal to install the signboard is to inform travelers, government officials and the public that our village has been in a dispute with a powerful and rich lady without a resolution,” Mr Hil said.

“The civil complaint has been going through the judiciary system for more than four years, and the decision has never been made as to which party is the legal land owner,” he said.

The sign will state the following in Khmer, according to Mr Hil and fellow villager Sev Thvel: “We’re villagers in Kong Yu village, and we are appealing to Ratanakkiri Provincial Court to justly solve our land dispute with Chumteav Keat Kolney soon because this court case has been extended for years.”

Dozens of families in Kong Yu village filed a complaint with the provincial court in 2007 alleging that Ms Kolney and her representatives fooled them into signing over more than 450 hectares of their ancestral land. Since then, 250 hectares of that land have been planted with rubber trees by Ms Kolney, Finance Minster Keat Chhon’s sister.

The case has been investigated without closure by three judges since 2007, with the last judge resigning some time this year.

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Director Lou Sou Sambath said yesterday that there is still no judge assigned to the case.

“The previous judges claimed that when they tried to measure the disputed land, the people always stopped them with hoes and knives,” the court director claimed. “I have spoken to a number of judges and there is not even a judge to volunteer to work on this case,” he added.

Asked about the planned billboard, Mr Sambath said it “will not harm our investigation.”

Pate Commune chief Sev Nhang said he could not guarantee the billboard would not be vandalized or removed by authorities.

“For myself, I will not touch the community billboard,” he said. “But I can’t say whether or not it will be destroyed by somebody or removed if the upper level thinks it is an illegal installment.”

Contact information was not available yesterday for Ms Kolney, and Mr Sambath, the provincial court director, said she has yet to name a new attorney after her last lawyer, Chhe Vibol, resigned from the case more than a year ago.


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