Villagers in Keat Kolney Case Refuse To Settle

Villagers embroiled in a long-running land dispute with Keat Kol­ney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon and wife of Ministry of Land Management Secretary of State Chhan Saphan, have refused an out-of-court settlement, choosing instead to have their day in court, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

Chhe Vibol, an attorney for Keat Kolney, said the decision was now in the hands of the Ratanakkiri Pro­vincial Court. Twelve ethnic minority Jarai villagers from O’Yadaw district on Jan 23 lodged civil and criminal complaints against Keat Kol­ney and seven others, whom they accuse of illegally tricking them out of 500 hectares of Pate commune land in August 2004.

Through Chhe Vibol, Keat Kol­ney on May 3 made three separate proposals to settle the case and all three were rejected Thursday, said Ny Chandy, an attorney with the NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia. The options offered, Chhe Vibol said at the time, were the return of 50 hectares of land, or the construction of a three-room school, or the payment of an unspecified sum of money. “After meeting with their communities, they decided that they won’t agree,” Ny Chandy said.

Ith Mathoura, an attorney with the Community Legal Education Center, said that she had not had a final answer from the villagers she represents in the case, but that it was unlikely they would choose to settle with Keat Kolney.

Ny Chandy said the plaintiffs want the return of all the land they say was taken and that they intend to inform the court of their decision when next summoned to appear.

Judge An Samnang said the court would now take up the case at an unspecified date. “If they don’t agree with each other, the court will further act according to the law,” he said.

Chhe Vibol said Thursday that he had nothing more to offer the villagers. “If we don’t agree, let the court handle it,” he said. “It is up to the court.”

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