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Kong Yu families refuse to sign away Ratanakkiri land

Kong Yu families refuse to sign away Ratanakkiri land

Long-simmering dispute pits villagers against sister of finance minister

MORE than 50 Jarai ethnic minority families have rejected an offer to resolve a long-simmering land dispute pitting residents of Kong Yu, a village in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadav district, against Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

The 53 families opted not to thumbprint an agreement that would have given them US$450 each in exchange for dropping the dispute, said Roman Fil, a representative of the villagers.

Keat Kolney has claimed that 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 villagers in January 2007, saying Keat Kolney had tricked them into thumbprinting transfer documents.

In June 2008, Keat Kolney's lawyers filed a counter-complaint accusing CLEC of incitement and the villagers of illegally occupying the land.

We have urged the court many times to take the case to trial.

Ratanakkiri provincial court prosecutor Mey Sokhan announced in April that he had decided to dismiss the complaints.
Lawyers involved in the case said at the time that they remained in the dark regarding the reasons for the dismissals.
Villagers have staged several protests after they grew suspicious that Keat Kolney had conspired with local authorities to cheat them out of the land.

Sourng Sophea, the CLEC lawyer who assisted them with the January 2007 complaint, said the villagers had been under constant pressure from local authorities to stop protesting and to refrain from filing future complaints.

He said they were still hoping that the case would be heard in court.

"We have urged the court many times to take the case to trial, but they have kept their silence," Sourng Sophea said.

"Ethnic minority villagers are still agitating to keep the land from becoming a rubber plantation."
Ratanakkiri provincial court Judge Thor Saron, who has been handling the case, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Chhe Vibol, Keat Kolney's lawyer, contradicted Roman Fil on Sunday, saying there had been an agreement between his client and the villagers to turn over the land as long as it was used for the construction of a school building and health centre that the villagers could use.
"Now we're just waiting for those villagers to fill out the documents," he said.

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