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PM overrules supreme court's decision in Banteay Meanchey land dispute

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh last week where he called on Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities to ignore a Supreme Court order. Facebook
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh last week where he called on Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities to ignore a Supreme Court order. Facebook

PM overrules supreme court's decision in Banteay Meanchey land dispute

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent contretemps with the Cambodian court system has seemingly reached its logical apex, with the premier ordering provincial authorities in Banteay Meanchey to disregard a ruling by the Supreme Court.

In the latest case of public intervention in court matters, the prime minister weighed in on a dispute over 4 hectares near National Road 5 in the province’s O’Chrou district during a speech last week.

Hun Sen slammed as “unjust” the 2011 Supreme Court verdict, which unequivocally awarded the plot to claimant Toul Sopheak, 33, and her family over five soldiers and their kin.

The soldiers have continued to live at the site in defiance of the order, which has never been enforced. Most recently on March 16, the provincial court ordered them evicted.

But speaking on March 17, the premier stated that he had told authorities – including the provincial governor and regional military commander – to block the enforcement.

“I had to work to delay the implementation,” he said, characterising the matter as “serious” and “unusual”, and calling on Defence Minister Tea Banh to look into the case.

“The soldiers go to protect the nation, but when they came back, even their homes couldn’t be defended.”

Yesterday, Banteay Meanchey governor Korsum Saroeuth maintained that parsing court orders was not his job. Representatives of the provincial court and Justice Ministry were unreachable.

The premier’s comments, it appears, were in response to a video posted on Facebook by a CPP blogger calling for a retrial.

They also came shortly after he took to Facebook to order the release of two women imprisoned over a land dispute in Kampong Speu.

Hun Sen touts his Facebook page as a way to “solve problems quickly and effectively”, but the government has repeatedly denied the premier’s statements amount to undue judicial influence.

In its 2011 ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the soldiers’ appeal against their eviction, saying they had no evidence of rightful ownership to trump Sopheak’s family’s documentation.

Yesterday, Sopheak called out Hun Sen for interfering in the legal system.

“I am happy that the prime minister feels for the people and considers that the soldiers are also his people . . . but he should keep the Supreme Court independent,” she said. ADHOC coordinator Sam Chankea agreed that judicial independence had been compromised.

“There is no rule of law in this country; he has intervened in the court, therefore the rule of law is what comes out his mouth,” he said.

However, Khuth Tol, one of the soldiers living on the site, praised the premier for “helping his children” against an “unjust, unethical and unprofessional” court yesterday.

“Without Samdech and the Ministry of Justice’s interference, we would have lost our land and house and had no place to live,” said Tol, who referred to the premier as his “commander-in-chief” and “second parent”.

“We will support Samdech until we die,” he added.

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