PAILIN - In recent times Pailin's residents have had to get used to some
novel concepts: a casino, prostitution, elections and now a courthouse of
Actually, it is a four-by-six metre room with four tables and six chairs
in it, but for the moment it is where justice is dispensed in this former
Khmer Rouge stronghold, now an autonomous zone.
The court has 23 staff, including: chief of the court, prosecutor, deputy
prosecutor, judge, investigating judge, secretary, and assistants.
The titles are all correct, however there is not a legal qualification
among the holders. Despite that, they have forged ahead and dealt with thefts,
killings and the most common case - bad debts.
The court's judge, Mak Soksan, 50, said most of the cases are resolved
through mediation, although some people have been imprisoned by the court.
"In here, if we open the book of law and [practice the law correctly]
people must be always chained and jailed, but we turn and talk in a sentimental
way [and] they listen to us," he said.
"We sit down and talk with the plaintiffs and complainants in a
mutual way, try to turn them from violence and to share ideas to solve the
He said they ask the parties in the case not to be angry with each other
and remind them that they are living in the same area and are friends and
Soksan said dealing with the locals is relatively easy because they still
remember what happened to criminals under the KR.
"The local people were so afraid to commit a crime. They were so
scared of the so-called 'law of the jungle' because they wuld have been
summarily executed if they were arrested," he said.
And, he added, there have been few problems with civil disputes like
bad debts because the people are so honest that they readily admit to owing
money even if there is no proof.
"If they are in debt to someone, they say they are" and agree
to pay the money back.
These resolutions through mediation are an essential feature of the court
because, as Soksan says: "We have no rights to set up any hearing because
we are illegal, but we have the right to mediate.
"At the moment, this office is just the justice office of Pailin
"It has not become the court house yet, but the reason we put the
logo of 'The City Court House of Pailin' is because we follow the promise
of Mr Hun Sen." Hun Sen said in a speech at Pailin's integration ceremony
in October 1996 that government ministries would be set up there.
One government department Soksan said they would like to see working
in the province is the Prisons Department.
"We asked to set up the prison a long time ago... nowadays the court
keeps the prisoners in the Military Police office and the prisoners can
escape easily if the police are reckless," he said.
At the time, there were six prisoners being detained according to Soksan
because "they are thieves and some of them used weapons illegally.
"At the moment we do not know when we will release them. We just
temporarily detain them like that. Probably they have to wait until the
court here becomes legal, then, we will sentence them."
Soksan acknowledged that it was illegal for police to detain people for
more than 48 hours but he said the court keeps issuing an order for them
to be detained every two days.
"So in here, even though we are not the real court we have been
working like we are a court already," Soksan said with a chuckle.
There is no doubt that working for the court confers status. Soksan was
continually greeted and treated with respect as he walked to the military
"Where are you going Lok Om [uncle]?" one of three police who
were driving a motorbike politely asked Soksan as they took off their police
caps in respect.
"I am going to the MP's office," Soksan replied.
The MP compound overlooks a scenic vista of rolling hills. Under the
sprawling tree in front of the office is a small shed where the prisoners
often pass the time during the day, while nights are spent shackled in cells.
Food is sparse.
A guard was seated casually at a wooden table while in the hut bare-chested
young prisoners relaxed, some lying on the wooden bed while others cooked
One of the bare-chested men approached the Post and asked in perfect
English: "Are you looking for the prisoners?" He was Koy Vanchhay
who was being detained because he had lost $2,000 in government money that
was to be used to build a hospital.
Vanchhay said that he had been given $3,000 to buy materials and equipment
for the building. He said he spent about $1,000 initially and gave the balance
to a friend to keep safe until they needed more materials. However he said,
"My friend took the money and ran away. I don't know where he went.
I tracked him to Pursat province but I couldn't find him."
He explained the situation to the Pailin governor who said he had to
compensate the loss - a solution that Vanchhay said was impossible on his
salary of 700 baht a month ($17.50).
He was then summoned to the court, where the judge ordered him to be
held in prison until a solution was found.
In the meantime, Vanchhay said life was fine except for the shortage
of food and not knowing when he would be released.
"I just stay and work in the prison. In the night time they chain
and lock me in the room and in the day time they take me out to work,"
The experience has left Vanchhay with a bitter taste of Pailin justice.
"Oh, I think there is no real law here because when I arrived at
the court I didn't have a lawyer and did not see any people seated on the
chairs to look at the court to see the hearing of the prisoners.
"The court has not been approved by the Royal Government - by the