Ex-Finance Minister’s Sister Buys Up More Ethnic Jarai Lands

About 50 ethnic Jarai families in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district have sold their farmland and part of the forests their culture depends on to the sister of former Finance Minister Keat Chhon, rights group Adhoc said Monday. Last year, the ethnic minority Jarai in the district were pushed to accept private land titles rather than obtain a community land title—which would have protected their spirit forests and prevented the land from being sold —because authorities told them that acquiring a communal title would take too long. Sal Chaing, a 25-year-old resident of Paknhai commune, said that he sold his 4.5 hectares of farmland to a middleman called Khin Sophal for $5,850 last week. “I have sold my land for $1,300 per hectare, but so far I only received $3,500,” Mr. Chaing said, adding that the deal was signed by two witnesses: Dork Sar, O’Yadaw district governor, and commune chief Rochom Lich. … Chhay Thy, the provincial co­ordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that Keat Kolney, a sister of former Finance Minister Mr. Chhon and wife of Ministry of Land Management Secretary of State Chhan Saphan, had bought the Jarai villagers’ land through an intermediary. “Keat Kolney bought the 150 hectares” of Jarai land, Mr. Thy said, alleging that authorities had colluded with Ms. Kolney when they pushed the families to opt for private titles last year. Ethnic Jarai in nearby Kong Yu and Kong Thom villages have been locked in a land dispute for several years with Ms. Kolney, who they accuse of fooling them out of several hundred hectares of forest and farmland on the pretext the land was to be used by the government. Though the villagers have spent years pursuing their complaints against Ms. Kolney through the court, the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has consistently failed to expedite their case. …

Aun Pheap