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Bar spat sent back to appeal

The drawn-out fight for the Cambodian Bar Association (CBA) presidency continues

after the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Appeals Court June 2.

Five Supreme Court judges ruled that a November 9 decision to hold new elections

was unfair, although the exact reason for the annulment remains unclear.

The dispute is between incumbent Ky Tech and Suon Visal, a lawyer with the Cambodia

Defenders Project, an NGO that provides legal assistance to the poor.

In a hearing held behind closed doors on November 19, the Appeals Court ruled that

the association should hold new elections within 90 days and dictated that Tech retain

the presidency until the new votes could be counted.

Visal walked out of the Appeals Court in protest at the secrecy but the hearing continued

in his absence.

In the original vote, held in October 2004, Tech lost the presidential election to

Visal, 127 votes to 108 but Tech accused his rival of violating CBA campaign rules.

Ten days later he filed a complaint with the Appeals Court.

The struggle has caused divisions in the legal community because of the political

implications of the spat. The Bar Association is ostensibly a neutral organization,

but just weeks before the vote for presidency, Tech approved the applications of

several high-ranking members of the Cambodian People's Party, despite evidence that

none of them possessed the qualifications to join.

The CBA was given two vans and a new premises by the government.

Visal, on the other hand, is seen as a favorite of NGOs and international community.

The latest Supreme Court ruling has only solidified each man's position, with both

claiming the decision as a victory.

Visal maintained that since the lower court's decision had been overturned, he should

now legitimately hold the president's chair. He said he would attempt to preside

over a meeting of the bar council members next week, a move which may cause further

rifts in the Association.

"It is a problem for the bar because the conflict still continues," Visal

said

Tech countered that even though the lower court's decision had been overturned, the

Supreme Court never indicated that Visal should take the president's office. By this

logic, he said he was still president.

The retrial at the Appeals Court has not been scheduled.

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