A trainee judge has been appointed to continue investigating the civil lawsuit brought against Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney by ethnic Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district, a court official said yesterday.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Director Lou Sou Sambath said yesterday that trainee judge Lonh Chan Chetana had been placed in charge of the investigation that has stood idle since three other judges refused to continue working on the case for fear of being attacked by villagers.
In 2007, villagers in Kong Yu village, a Jarai ethnic minority community in Pate commune, accused Ms Kolney of cheating them out of 450 hectares of communally owned land, which by law cannot be sold.
Yesterday, Mr Sou Sambath said that Mr Chan Chetana had been working at the court as a trainee judge for more than a year and was more than capable of handling the investigation, adding that he expected the trainee to be one of the three judges who adjudicated at the yet to be scheduled civil trial.
“All four judges [at the court] were so scared to take up…this case because they learned from former investigation judges that villagers always tried to attack court officials who went to the field to measure the disputed land,” he said. “Sooner or later, [Mr Chan Chetana] will be a judge, which is why I appointed him to the case recently.”
Villagers and rights workers involved in the case said yesterday that, regardless of Mr Chan Chetana’s lack of experience, they were happy someone had been appointed to the case.
Sev Thvel, a representative for 50 Jarai families in Kong Yu village, said he was glad the investigation was continuing under the trainee judge because villagers feared that some of the disputed land would be sold off by Ms Kolney illegally.
Cambodian Legal Education Center project officer Man Vuthy said he had met with Mr Chan Chetana and believed his lack of experience would not be an issue. “The problem we are concerned about is that the judges…who rejected handling this case, saying it was too complicated, should not have been made judges,” he said.