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Jarai land not 'worthless'

Dear Editor,

The Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) and Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC) would like to clarify a number of statements made by Judge Thor Sarorn of the Ratanakkiri provincial court regarding the planting of trees on contested land in the province. 

The judge's remarks concern the longstanding land conflict between Keat Kolney and the ethnic Jarai villagers of Kong Yu village in Ratanakkiri. Referring to the recent planting of rubber trees on land that was illegally cleared in late 2008 under the pretense of creating a "fire road" around Keat Kolney's existing rubber trees, the judge was quoted as saying, "Keat Kolney doesn't want anything besides developing useless forest into rubber trees." We would like to remind the judge that this recently cleared land in fact contained farmland and an ancient burial ground of the Kong Yu villagers. We have shared our photographic and GPS evidence with the judge to support this assertion. Far from being "useless" land, this land is hallowed land to the Jarai people. Furthermore, as such, it is subject to special protection under the 2001 Land Law.  

The judge also said that the Kong Yu villagers had filed their lawsuit in early 2007 only because they had been incited by lawyers working for NGOs and foreigners.  We would like to point out that our lawyers have been diligently working on this case since 2006. They have been proud to work closely with the Kong Yu villagers as they have peacefully exerted their lawful rights to complain to the court and other authorities. For the judge to describe our lawyers' work as incitement reveals a misunderstanding of both our work and of the nature of incitement itself.  

All of our lawyers' work has been meticulously conducted according to Cambodian law and procedure. Furthermore, our work of supporting and defending the Jarai villagers as they assert their legal rights cannot constitute incitement because nowhere - not even in Cambodia - does assisting another to assert lawful rights constitute incitement. In other words, one cannot be incited to do something that is legal.  

It was a proud day for Cambodia's justice system in January 2007 when the Jarai villagers from Kong Yu filed their complaint against such a powerful individual as Keat Kolney. It will be an even prouder day when the court actually takes actions to resolve this case according to law.

Community Legal Education Centre

Legal Aid of Cambodia

Phnom Penh

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or P.O.鈥圔ox 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

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