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Lawyers boycott land dispute hearings

LAWYERS for two defendants in an ongoing land dispute boycotted a Kampong Chhang provincial court hearing yesterday, after the court allegedly refused to summon their clients’ witnesses.

Pheng Rom, 45, and Reach Seima, 30, are being sued by the agricultural firm KDC International in connection with claims they made in 2009 that KDC illegally cleared 140 hectares of their land in Lorpeang village.
KDC is headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy.

The evidence from the hearing is based on a police report that the lawyers allege places the burden of proof on the defendants.

“We asked for the police to be present and a witness from Lorpeang village, Keo Sokha, who saw the transporting of tractors to clear the land,” defence attorney Sam Sokong said. “Since this did not happen, we boycotted.”

He and two other lawyers from Legal Aid of Cambodia and the rights group Adhoc asked the judge to delay yesterday’s hearing, a request which was refused.

The hearing continued with a KDC representative, KDC lawyer, the district prosecutor, their five witnesses and Pheng Rom in attendance.

Reach Seima, the second defendant, did not appear at the hearing, saying he did not trust the proceedings.

“The court will judge in their favour because they are the rich; the poor are wrong,” he said.

Ny Sokha, community programme officer for Adhoc, observed that the judge did not ask the defendant whether he could defend himself without a lawyer, which should be grounds for a hearing dismissal.

The verdict for both defendants will be handed down on January 17.

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