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Ratanakkiti case to get third judge in three years

Ratanakkiti case to get third judge in three years

Ratanakkiti provincial court is set to appoint a new judge in a case pitting an ethnic Jarai village in the province against a prominent Phnom Penh businesswoman, but lawyers representing the villagers say it remains unclear when the protracted case will finally move towards a resolution.

Man Vuthy, a lawyer with the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said Tuesday that the court director had informed the group he will soon appoint a new judge after the previous one, Thor Saron, stepped down this year, casting the case into limbo.

“At the moment, no judge is responsible for the case,” he said. “Until today, everything is quiet.”

He said Thor Saron voluntarily dropped the case at an undetermined date earlier in the year, after CLEC, which is representing the villagers, filed a bias motion in December seeking to have him removed.

The land dispute dates back to 2004, when, residents of Kong Yu village say, they were tricked into selling 450 hectares of land to a rubber company owned by Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

The case has already had two judges since charges were first filed in 2007 – the first, Yar Narin, was also dropped in October 2008 following bias complaints.

When contacted Tuesday, Thor Saron said he had removed himself from the case after the bias complaint and had requested that the court appoint a replacement. “I don’t know who the new judge is,” he said.

Provincial court director Lu Susambath could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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