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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Arrest made in disputed drug case

Arrest made in disputed drug case

POLICE are detaining a military police officer in connection with last month's marijuana

seizure, which has become a controversial excuse for the Prime Ministers to launch

allegations against each other.

Chao Sokhon, a military police deputy commanding officer in Sihanoukville - where

more than six tonnes of marijuana was seized by anti-drug police on Apr 2 - has been

held in Police Judiciare (PJ) prison since his arrest in connection with the case

on Apr 22.

"He attempted to escape from being arrested but we succeeded in implementing

the court warrant. He will be judged by the law [although] he has maintained his

innocence," said deputy commander of national military police Sao Sokha.

It took law enforcement officers 11 days to execute the warrant which was issued

by the Municipal Court on Apr 11. Police said that Sokhon had become a fugitive since

then, hiding at the house of RCAF's Deputy Chief of Staff Nhek Bun Chhay.

Bun Chhay (Funcinpec) denied having anything to do with Sokhon or that he protected

him. The arrest was carried out amidst high fears of armed clashes.

In late evening of Apr 22, Sokhon was taken to the court where heavily armed MPs

had been deployed in a precautionary measure to prevent any attempts to liberate

him. Shortly after his arrival, Sokhon was driven under heavy military escort to

PJ prison.

Sokha said the suspect was taken from an army barracks in Tang Kasang village north

of Pochentong airport, where a unit of RCAF loyal to Funcinpec is based.

Refusing to name Bun Chhay as the key protector of the suspect, Sokha, however, said:

"If he did not have anyone behind him, he would not have caused the delay of

his arrest."

In a speech aired on Apsara radio on Apr 22, Second Premier Hun Sen pointed the finger

at Bun Chhay as a protector of Sokhon. He warned Bun Chhay of an unspecified measure

to be taken against him if he didn't hand over the suspect to the court, "no

matter if you wear three golden stars" - Bun Chhay's rank in the army - "or

a moon".

Hun Sen, amid political mud-slinging over the Sihanoukville marijuana haul, had earlier

slapped a $10,000 reward on the arrest of Sokhon. In the wake of the military policeman's

arrest, it was unclear whether anyone would receive the reward.

Police have a list of ten other men to be arrested, but chief of Municipal anti-drug

police Heng Peo declined to release their names. Complaining that politics has complicated

his investigation, Peo said that he has received an assassination threat from Bun

Chhay because of the Sokhon affair.

Bun Chhay has denied making such a threat.

Meanwhile, both prime ministers whose relationship is beyond repair have intensified

their war of words over the marijuana issue.

Ranariddh has accused Hun Sen's aide Mong Reththy of trafficking the dope and appealed

for international assistance to curb the kingdom's increasing drug problems.

On Apr 21, he sent letters to US President Bill Clinton and senators asking them

to send expertise to assist Cambodia's anti-drug authorities. In the letters, the

prince particularly named Mong Reththy - Hun Sen's economic adviser, and tycoon Theng

Bun Ma - recently banned from entering the US - as suspects in drug trafficking.

In a show of disbelief in the government's law enforcement capabilities, Ranariddh

wrote: "Cambodia will be run by drug dealers with close ties to high [ranking]

and corrupt officials in the government, the police force and the army."

In a speech on Apr 18, he said that he could not afford to build many schools like

Hun Sen, because: "Funcinpec party does not have marijuana to sell, it is poor".

Ranariddh's comment which implied that the CPP enriches itself with drug money drew

a furious response from Hun Sen.

The CPP's vice president described the prince's comment as the "language of

a bratty person".

Hun Sen added: "If you don't have money, you don't have to accuse other people

that they have money because they sell marijuana."

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