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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Armed monks lead rampage on courthouse

Armed monks lead rampage on courthouse

KAMPOT - Monks carrying axes, clubs and jars of acid led a mob of around 200 armed

demonstrators, some of whom ransacked Kampot court late last month, according to

the chief court judge.

Chief judge Him Y and other staff had to flee the building in fear for their lives

after up to 40 demonstrators climbed the court fence and attacked at around 10am

on 28 December.

Him Y's court had earlier that month ruled in favor of a one man's complaint that

he was being forced off his land near a pagoda in Kompong Trach district after a

business dispute with his partner Koy Yon, who is the district deputy governor.

Koy Yon ignored the court's ruling however and - Him Y says out of spite alone -

evicted his former partner using his official powers.

Then, according to court documents obtained by the Post, Koy Yon incited the monks

and some of their neighbors to demonstrate against the court.

The court documents allege the mob were paid between 5,000 and 10,000 riels each.

The crowd arrived armed, in four trucks. Witnesses said they were led by about ten

monks.

Him Y told the Post he knew that the demonstration had been arranged but he had expected

it to be orderly.

He called the monks participation in the ensuing 15 minutes of violence "inappropriate."

Police stood by - or at best, according to a human rights worker, made feeble efforts

to stop the crowd. Some policemen apparently reappeared in civilian clothes later

to watch.

Him Y said he had to request military police to intervene.

Two MPs were still stationed outside the court when the Post visited on January 23.

Him Y said that if it had not been for the MPs, far more damage would have been done.

He said his office would have likely been completely destroyed.

Him Y produced a list of items stolen or damaged. They included typewriters, a copier,

desks and telephones. Court records that Him Y called "valuable" were stolen.

Oil was smeared on the walls and floor.

Him Y said he had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice about the incident.

Human rights workers say that the Chief Prosecutor was investigating the incident

but "for security reasons he is proceeding slowly."

Him Y also said he believed that the district authorities had filed their own version

of the matter with the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh.

When asked if he still believed he could do his job properly, Him Y said it was true

that he was worried about his personal security.

However, he said he would continue to "strive" and keep on doing his work

as a judge.

He said that the decisions he had made had been correct and true. No mistakes had

been made because he was implementing the legal system as he was bound to.

He called the actions of the demonstrators, and both the Kompong Trach district authorities

and the Kampot provincial authorities "illegal."

The case involved a private citizen who had been operating an ice-making factory

on a small piece of land adjoining Wat Tumpor. The man had owned the land and lived

there since 1984.

He later accepted Koy Yon as a business partner, who in late 1994 offered to buy

the land for his son to set up his own business.

Koy Yon offered five chi of gold - a very small sum - which the owner refused. In

February 1995 the district authority served the man with an eviction notice, saying

that the land was part of the pagoda.

Him Y - when asked to arbitrate in March 1995 - spent nine months confirming from

different sources, in both official records and discussions with elderly monks, that

the land was never part of Tumpor pagoda. He ruled in favor of the private businessman.

That same week, the district authority obtained an order from the province to evict

the man - despite Him Y's decision - and demolished the factory very soon after.

Ten days after his ruling, Him Y's court was ransacked.

Him Y said Koy Yon had agitated in the temple, telling the monks the land was rightfully

theirs "and [he] got all the people angry."

Him Y said he would have definitely feared for his safety if he had stayed during

the melee. He said "he could not say" if the mob had been told to be violent.

The Post visited Wat Tumpor, which is about 20km west of Kep nearing the Vietnamese

border.

One monk, who could be charitably described as surly, said the head monk was not

available.

He initially said that no monks from his pagoda had taken part in the demonstration;

later he said some had, but they had not been armed nor had they been involved in

any violence.

The land where the factory was is now clear, and has been quickly enclosed by an

extension of the pagoda's concrete wall.

One of the boys accompanying the Post around the Wat said that the people "just

got angry" because the ice-factory had been carrying on business inside the

pagoda grounds.

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