Seeking to halt what they say is the continuing destruction of disputed rice paddy, forest and grassland, lawyers for villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw district Monday said they had sought a court order against a company owned by Finance Minister Keat Chhon’s sister Keat Kolney.
Rights workers and lawyers said over the weekend that the Agricultural Development Association had begun clearing the land in Pate commune’s Kong Yu village in spite of a 2007 agreement to leave it untouched pending the outcome of lawsuits begun that year.
“We sought an injunction to ask the court to protect the villagers’ land,” said Sourng Sophea, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center, which is representing the villagers along with Legal Aid of Cambodia.
Lawyers also presented the court with video recordings of the clearances, he said.
Villagers sued last year in provincial court, claiming Keat Kolney had fooled them out of 450 hectares of commonly owned land, 270 of which have since been cleared for a rubber plantation.
Investigating Judge Thao Sarorn could not be reached for comment Monday, while Provincial Prosecutor Mey Sokhan said he was ill and declined to answer questions.
Chhe Vibol, a lawyer for Keat Kolney, said Monday that, while he had not been informed of any recent clearances, the company usually cleared grass to prevent dry season wildfires.
“Clearing the grass on the disputed land is to prevent wildfires,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we aren’t keeping our promise,” he said of the 2007 agreement. “It does not affect the disputed areas.”
Romam Film, a representative of the Kong Yu villagers who are predominately Jarai ethnic minority highlanders, said the clearances had destroyed unharvested rice paddy.
“I want the company to stop clearing the land. We rely on our rice crop. We’ll starve if we don’t have enough rice,” he said.