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Land Suit Renewed Against Minister’s Sister

A group of Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province has filed a second suit against the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, alleging her company failed to follow a court order to stop clearing disputed land.

Fifteen representatives of Pate commune, O’Yadao district, filed suit “after their crops and graves were damaged due to land clearance by Mrs. Keat Kolney’s company,” said Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center, which is representing the villagers.

The second suit follows a January 2007 court action by villagers of Pate’s Kong Yu village, who accused Keat Kolney’s company of defrauding them of 450 hectares of land, an allegation Keat Kolney has denied. However, Keat Kolney did tell the courts in March 2007 she would suspend development of the land.

In the newest complaint, villagers told the courts that on Oct. 23, workers for Keat Kolney resumed clearance on the disputed land and continued to do so despite the orders of a provincial court judge on Oct. 28.

On Monday, Keat Kolney’s lawyer, Chhe Vibol, denied the allegation.

“Following the suit in 2007, my client has never cleared that land,” he said, declining to comment further.

Judge Thor Saron, who issued the order for the company to cease clearance, declined comment Monday.

Ros Saram, a Ratanakkiri court deputy prosecutor, confirmed receipt of the newest complaint.