The Royal Palace has granted the prestigious title of oknha to politically connected businesswoman Keat Kolney, who has been locking horns for a decade with ethnic Jarai minorities in Ratanakkiri province over hundreds of disputed hectares.
Kolney – who is married to Chhan Saphann, an official at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and is the sister of Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon – was appointed on June 11, according to the royal decree. The title was “requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen”.
Translated most accurately as “tycoon”, oknha is an honorific that has traditionally been bestowed on powerful officials who contribute to society, though reasons for why a given recipient deserves the title are rarely, if ever, spelled out.
Villagers in O’Yadav district’s Kong Yu village accuse Kolney of soliciting their thumbprints under false pretenses for the sale of 450 hectares in 2004. The complaint has languished in court, and some fear the new title can only hurt their case.
“It is suitable for her, because she has money to get the title,” said villager Sven Thvel, 29. “The court keeps quiet because they fear her power.”