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Court drops land complaints

Court drops land complaints

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090413_02.jpg

Ratanakkiri prosecutor rejects two criminal filings in dispute between ethnic Jarai and Keat Kolney, sister of finance minister

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SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Kong Yu village in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district has been fighting for 450 hectares of ancestral land since 2004.

ARATANAKKIRI provincial court prosecutor has dismissed two criminal complaints relating to an ongoing land dispute between an ethnic Jarai village and a Phnom Penh businesswoman, but lawyers involved with the case say they remain in the dark as to the reasons for the dismissals.

Prosecutor Mey Sokhan's rejection of the two complaints is the latest event in a protracted land dispute that has pitted residents of Kong Yu, a village in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadav district, against Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

Keat Kolney says she purchased 450 hectares of land from the Kong Yu villagers in August 2004 for a rubber plantation, but lawyers from the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) filed a criminal complaint on  behalf of the village in January 2007, saying Keat Kolney tricked them into thumbprinting transfer documents.

In June, Keat Kolney's lawyers brought a counter-complaint, accusing the CLEC of incitement and the villagers of illegally occupying the land.

Although both complaints were dismissed on February 2, Pen Bonna, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Kong Yu residents were not informed until Friday.

"They should have sent a letter to villagers when the court prosecutor dropped the lawsuit," he said.

"It's a sensitive point. It's very hard for the court to find justice for the people."

No reason given

Despite Friday's notification, CLEC lawyer Sourng Sophea, who is helping represent the village in court, was unaware of the reason the case had been dismissed but said it could only be based on firm legal and factual grounds.

"I don't know the reason. According to Article 41 of the Criminal Procedure, the prosecutor has to give a reason [for the dismissal], but I haven't yet received a letter," he said.

When contacted Sunday, Mey Sokhan said he had been reassigned to Stung Treng provincial court and declined to comment on the Kong Yu case, while new court prosecutor Lou Sousambath could not be reached for comment.

But Thar Saron, the Ratanakkiri provincial judge presiding over the case, said the cases had been dismissed in February because lawyers from both sides were "busy" and that the villagers and Keat Kolney would come together for a meeting early next month.

"The aim of the face-to-face talks will be to ask both sides to come to an understanding [so that] neither side will win or lose," he said Sunday.

Sourng Sophea said he knew nothing about the proposed meeting but that the villagers would make a decision on whether to appeal the dismissal of criminal complaints after the Khmer New Year.

A civil case relating to the disputed land is still set to come before the provincial court, but Sourng Sophea said no date had yet been set for its next hearing.

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