Legal aid lawyers met June 26 to draft their response to the Cambodian Bar Association, rebutting charges that they had incited Jarai minority villagers involved in a Ratanakkiri province land dispute with Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
In a June 19 letter to the bar, Keat Kolney accused seven attorneys from the Community Legal Education Center and three from Legal Aid of Cambodia of lobbying the villagers to file a lawsuit against her. She also accused them of falling under the political sway of foreign advisers, making inappropriate cash payments to villagers, giving false information to the media and inappropriately dragging powerful government officials into a private land dispute.
“Advice is not incitement and what we did doesn’t serve any political party,” Huon Chundy, program manager for the CLEC, said Tuesday. He added that the lawyers’ response would be delivered to the bar in the coming days.
LAC Director Peung Yok Hiep on June 26 denied any wrongdoing. “The lawyers…only advised them about their rights,” she said.
Huon Chundy said CLEC had covered villagers’ expenses for a trip to Phnom Penh earlier this month, during which they attempted unsuccessfully to meet with Keat Kolney’s husband Chhan Saphan, a Secretary of State in the Ministry of Land Management.
“They are poor and they lacked means,” Huon Chundy said. “It was not buying the mind.” He added that he hoped the bar would handle the case fairly.
Jarai villager Sev Khem, 19, also dismissed the accusations of incitement as groundless. “The community itself brought up the case,” she said. “The lawyers don’t get any benefit.”
Bar Association Vice Secretary-General Nou Tharith said the bar would handle the case fairly. “The bar association always takes such a stance,” he said. Once the bar considers the lawyers’ response, he said the bar would either write a letter to Keat Kolney or invite both sides to negotiate an end to the dispute.
Keat Kolney’s lawyer Chhe Vibol said the bar should handle the case “in accordance with its duty.”