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Pailin courthouse hands down rebel justice

Pailin courthouse hands down rebel justice

 

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

a kind.

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

dispute peacefully..."

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

neighbors.

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

city.

"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

police office.

"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

lunch.

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,"

he said.

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

King."

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