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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Law students claim victory after demo

Law students claim victory after demo

Faculty of Law students are buoyant after what they say were the "first

successful student demonstrations" in Cambodia, which forced the Ministry of

Education to withdraw students not qualified to study law.

Students have

since returned to class but some believe the general feeling of their protest's

success is premature. As one student put it: "The Ministry of Education has not

done enough yet to uncover corrupt officials."

The 41 students at the

center of the dispute were to have entered directly into the middle of the

second year but other students charged that corrupt officials had sold positions

in the law class. Five days of student boycotts culminated in a peaceful march

from the law school to the Ministry of Education on Jan. 18.

Memories of

deaths in the anti-corruption demonstrations in 1991 lingered and the students

were wary but confident on the march as unarmed police controlled traffic and

the students worked hard to maintain discipline. About 400 students took to the

streets, trailing a convoy of nearly a hundred motorcycles. They covered the

three kilometer distance under stretched blue banners they had spent all night


Demonstrating about illegalities, students made sure they did

not break any laws. Current law requires notice and one student said: "If we had

not received permission we would not have marched."

The roots of the

confrontation lie with the attempted admission of 63 new law students. On Jan. 7

the Education Ministry posted a list of students to be admitted directly into

the Faculty of Law's second year.

The ministry claimed these additional

students had studied law in the border camps and were qualified for admission.

Students at the faculty said they asked for clarification on the new students'

status and when the ministry did not respond they began boycotting classes on

Jan. 10.

One student said: "There were students [on the list] who failed

the preparatory class, there were students who passed the preparatory class but

did not attend the first year of law school, and there were students who did not

attend preparatory class in Phnom Penh and did not study law in the border camps


Two days after the boycott began, students said they were

visited at the law school by an official of the Ministry of Education. "The

official told us that he would not answer questions one at a time," said a

student who was at the meeting. "He told us that we had to ask all of our

questions, and then he would answer. We refused to do this. He tried to persuade

us to return to class. We refused. He demanded that we identify our leaders. We

told him that we had no leaders and that we all supported each other in the


As students demonstrated outside his office on Jan. 18 Minister

of Education Ung Huot told them he would "forward the investigation" to the

Ministry of Security. "There is corruption," he said, "but I do not know where

it is." The Friday before the demonstration, students were told the ministry was

conducting an investigation but they were not told until the day after the march

that a non-Khmer was in charge of it.

American Ken Bingham from the

Institute of Economics was asked to sort out the false border-school law

certificates from those that were authentic. Bingham said of 27 certificates

shown to him by the Ministry, he found four were fraudulent as a result of

inspection and interviewing the candidates.

Rescinding the admission of

the "illegal students", as the students called them, was only the first

complaint. They claim positions in the second year of law had been sold for

between $3-4,000.

One student said a friend was offered a space in the

second year for "around three thousand dollars but he did not have the money and

he was afraid that he would fail the semester's test or his admission might be


Students said the ministry should reveal the names of and

punish the officials who had attempted to enroll the students and who, they say,

had sold positions in the class. They pointed out to members of the press that

the ministry has the names of all falsely enrolled students and need only ask

who sold them positions in the class.

The falsification claims do not

cover all former border camp students - 43 have already joined the second year

law students at the beginning of this academic year. They came from refugee

camps along the Thai border closed during the UN mandate in Cambodia.


one camp, Site 2, run by the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF),

two Law faculties were opened. Many of the students who studied there have

entered classes in Phnom Penh.

The "old" students accept them as part of

their class. One said during the protests: "We support the government's policy

of reconciliation, we support the inclusion of these students into our class but

most of the newest group of students are illegal."

Students requested

that the Ministry require all 62 students to come to the Faculty and threatened

demonstrations other-wise. Student leaders said that they wanted to identify

which were "fake" students. The Ministry's response initially was to take down

the list.

By Saturday morning, Jan. 15, law school administration

officials had been absent from the school for three days, but returned the day

before the demonstrations. One student joked: "Perhaps they went on


Law faculty teachers quietly waited for the students to return

to class.

The students said that the teachers told them: "We do not

support you, nor do we oppose you." One teacher said that "we support the

student's general right to demand things that are legally theirs." But they were

unwilling to take sides in this matter.

"We come to school, we teach our

class, and we go home. We do not have anything to do with school administration

or the selection of students." However, the teachers agreed that if a student

started the second year of law school without passing the law preparatory

course, and without attending the first year of the law faculty, "that would be

a big problem for the teacher."

On Monday Law students at the Faculty of

Law continued a boycott of classes for the fourth consecutive day. They had

demanded of the Ministry of Education that the new students being offered a

place in the school present themselves at the school that


Appeals were broadcast on Cambodian television over the weekend,

asking the new students to come to the school on Monday morning, Jan.


However, none came. The Ministry of Education officials also failed

to arrive at the school, though they had promised the students to settle the

problem on Monday morning.

That night the students prepared their


Ironically, corruption was also involved in the 1991 entry

of the first group of law students-the very students who protested this past


One student, now in his second year of law school, said that his

mother paid $1,800 for his position at the school one and a half years ago. He

said that though this was also corruption, it is different. "I passed the test

to get into Law School, but that was not enough, I also had to pay for a

position in the school."

But he also said that "other students paid to

get a passing grade [on the entrance exam], and then paid to get into the


Several students said that for that original entering class it

was "impossible to get a place in the class without paying $1500 to $2000, no

matter how well you did on the exam."



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