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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - R’kiri villagers urge court ruling

R’kiri villagers urge court ruling

LAWYERS representing an ethnic Jarai village in Ratanakkiri province have filed a motion at the provincial court in Banlung, requesting that it rule on a long-running land dispute involving the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon that they claim has been ignored by the judge in charge of the case.

The dispute, which has pitted the residents of Kong Yu village in O’Yadav district against a rubber company owned by Keat Kolney, first came before the court in January 2007, but villagers say there has been little action to resolve the case.

“At the moment there is quiet,” said Chhev Twel, a Kong Yu village representative. “We filed a complaint to the court in 2007, and so far judge Thor Saron has kept the complaint quiet.”

Kong Yu villagers say they were tricked into signing documents handing over 450 hectares of communal land for development as a rubber plantation.

Sourng Sophea, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Centre, which represents the Kong Yu villagers, said Thor Saron had made only a single ruling on the Kong Yu case since he took over in September 2008: an injunction on the clearing of the disputed land, pending a ruling.

The lawyer said the motion made five requests, including that the judge appoint experts, make a visit to the village and order Keat Kolney to present sale documents for scrutiny by independent experts.

“We want him to reply and take a decision on our request. Even if he says no, we want to see it in writing so we can file an appeal,” he said.

Thor Saron is also being investigated by the Justice Ministry after he admitted last month that he had used a pick-up truck the court had seized as evidence in a murder case.

On September 24, Licadho and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights released a statement accusing Thor Saron of harassing rights activists and workers in relation to land disputes in the province.

Pen Bonnar, the provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, who left Ratanakkiri in August after Thor Saron accused him of inciting villagers in relation to a separate land dispute, agreed there were many gaps in the court’s work.

“I have been monitoring the court and found many cases of irregularities in the interests of the judges,” he said. “The judges do not perform work professionally and independently because [they] consider their own interests above justice.”

Thor Saron could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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