Four ethnic Jarai village representatives in Ratanakkiri province, including the wife of a rights group activist, were ordered to appear at court today or face arrest on charges of defamation against Keat Kolney, the sister of Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon.
The case is part of a long-running land dispute first brought to the court in 2007. At that time, more than 40 families of the Jarai indigenous community in O’Yadav district’s Pate commune sued Kolney for
allegedly seizing 450 hectares of land without proper compensation. For nearly eight years the court has not taken action to pursue the communities’ claim.
Chhay Thy, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc who is married to one of the disputants, said that villagers had been exploited and defrauded by commune and district authorities, and by land brokers in 2007 when they sold the land to Kolney for $90,000, of which they received only $20,000.
“[The authorities] took the rest [of the money],” Thy said. “Some of the authority officers have already died or retired because it was a long time ago.”
After the incident, the villagers held a press conference and demanded the land returned, but Kolney claimed the community had defamed her at the conference. Following an initial summons of villagers in 2012 on charges of fraud, defamation and conspiracy, four additional summonses were issued at the end of last month, according to a document obtained yesterday.
“The land complaint has not been addressed and now the court takes action against us instead,” said Sev Tbel, one of the community representatives summoned, adding that he would appear in court with at least 70 other community representatives.
In addition, Sev Pin, Ro Mam Thvil (who was previously summoned in 2012), and Sev Khem, the wife of Adhoc’s Thy, have been ordered to appear in court by provincial court judge Eng Chamnab.
“The villagers are simple people, so the court did not care about their lawsuit,” said Thy.
“There is no justice for them as the owners of the land, but the court takes action when Keat Kolney sues them.”
Kolney could not be reached for comment yesterday, while Chamnab refused to comment on the case.
Mar Vichet, O’yadav district governor, said he was not aware of the dispute but confirmed that Kolney has legal documents for the property, which “is already planted with rubber”.