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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Disputed R'kiri land being cleared

Disputed R'kiri land being cleared

The children of villagers caught up in a land dispute with Keat Kolney sit on the steps of their house. SAM RITH

RUBBER plantation workers in Ratanakkiri province have started clearing a plot of disputed land around the Jarai minority village of Kong Yu, which the community's lawyers say violates a promise to the provincial court that work would be halted pending a ruling on the controversial land deal.

Residents from the village, in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadao district, said plantation workers started clearing village farmland last Thursday. "The company has so far cleared around five metres inside four villagers' farmland," said village representative Romam Film.

Since August 2004, the village has been embroiled in a dispute with Keat Kolney, sister of Minister of Finance Keat Chhon, who claims she purchased 450 hectares of lands from the Kong Yu villagers. But villagers maintain they only intended to sell 50 hectares, which local officials said were needed for disabled army veterans.

Some 270 hectares of the land have since been planted with rubber trees, but after the community's lawyers lodged a formal complaint in February 2007, Keat Kolney thumbprinted court documents promising work on the remaining 180 hectares would be halted until the court ruled on the case.

But Chhay Thy, a monitor for Cambodian rights group Adhoc, claims he was detained briefly by workers from Keat Kolney's Progressive Farmers Association after photographing the land being cleared. "[A tractor driver] detained me when I took a picture of him clearing a road between the company land and the disputed land," he said.

"[He] freed me after he heard me talking with a lawyer on the phone."

Awaiting a ruling

Despite Keat Kolney's agreement not to undertake any further work on the disputed land, lawyers for the villagers said the provincial court was yet to make a ruling on the injunction filed in 2007.

"We asked the court to make an injunction to stop clearing the land since the villagers still farm there, [but] they did not make a ruling," said Sourng Sophea, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), which represents the Kong Yu villagers.

"According to the law, the court has to take action to hold a hearing and make a decision about [the injunction]. But they just did nothing."

Court Vice President Thor Saron, who was appointed to the case this month, has promised to respond promptly to lawyers' requests, but

Sourng Sophea said the new judge was forcing the villagers to resubmit their complaints under the new Civil Procedures Code, which came into use after the original complaints were filed.

"We don't need to file another complaint. We have filed a reminder motion, [just as] we reminded the old judge about the injunction," he said.

Keat Kolney's former representative Som Art, who resigned three months ago, said that the company had stopped clearing the land once the case was sent to court, but could not comment on current events.



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