Prisoners get released after use of leg irons was exposed.
BRUTAL conditions at Kampong Cham prison, including the
use of Khmer Rouge-era leg irons, have been changed
following the recent intervention of Australian aid
A source close to the project said however that the
intervention has upset some members of the Australian
Embassy who were concerned their stand may offend the
The advisors were working under an $8 million AusAID
funded criminal justice project.
According to human rights sources, the aid workers were
outraged by the conditions and notified human rights
groups, as well as putting pressure on prison authorities
to improve conditions.
The conditions came to light through the project's
involvement with the prison system.
They found prisoners shackled together
shoulder-to-shoulder with the infamous leg irons as a
punishment. Some of the prisoners had tried to insert
rags between their ankles and the shackles to stop their
flesh from being rubbed raw.
They also found overcrowding, unhygenic conditions and
prisoners being locked in the cells 21 hours out of 24.
Australian Embassy first secretary Bill Costello
confirmed in a letter to the Post that following an
escape, an adviser from the project had "provided
advice to the prison chief about internationally accepted
standards for the treatment of prisoners" but he
denied they had notified any human rights group.
He added that the adviser "expressed his concern at
the situation" rather than being outraged.
However, a human rights group and people close to the
project said that a member of AusAID did raise the issue
with a rights group.
Costello also denied the embassy was unhappy with the
actions of the project adviser in taking up the issue of
prison conditions saying "the actions were entirely
consistent with the objectives of the project." He
also added that the Embassy was not aware of
"specifics" of the Kampong Cham case but had
supported increased efforts by the project to help sort
out problems at the prison.
The prison was the site of a breakout three weeks ago by
20 prisoners out of the 32 in the cell.
The prisoners managed to break through the concrete base
of their cell and then tunnel downwards. Initially they
dug with hands and spoons but in the soil they found a
shovel that presumably had been there since the prison
This speeded up their progress considerably, and within a
few hours 20 managed to break out into the open, and 12
of them escaped over the wall. The 21st prisoner emerged
into the open at the same time as the sleeping guards
woke up and he was detained immediately.
All the prisoners were recaptured except one, Min Moan,
who was shot and fatally wounded.
He was shot in the buttocks and the bullet came out his
chest, prompting speculation that the man had been
summarily executed while kneeling down on the ground.
A UN worker who went to the prison when he heard about
the escape was angry that staff at Kampong Cham hospital
ignored Moan's dying pleas for treatment.
He said UN right workers tried to convince doctors to
save Moan's life but they refused saying that the UN was
trying to help criminals.
He said the doctors then claimed that the hospital did
not have any medicines for Moan and they would only treat
him if he paid them.
The UN workers then said that they would pay the costs
but the doctors said it was too late to start treatment.
Moan had been in prison since March when he was charged
with crimes relating to illegal weapons.
Interior ministry director general of the department of
general administration, Prum Sokha said that he was aware
of the problems at the prison and had sent instructions
numerous times for them to change the way they dealt with
But he said the problem was that there was no distinct
prison service like in other countries. He said the
prison were the responsibility of the prisons department
of the Interior ministry but the staff were police
officers and did not answer directly to the department.
The head of Kampong Cham prison, Chea Sreang, also
admitted there had been problems but he said they were
caused by the lack of funding and because the buildings
were so old.
UN human rights workers showed photos of people in the
shackles that they say were taken just three weeks ago.
But Sreang said they had stopped using the KR shackles in
1993. "I would like to clarify that we used the
chains because we did not have a high fence and it was
broken," he said.
Sreang also defended conditions at the prison saying:
"The prisoners get out 3 hours a day to see the sun
and play volleyball to take care of their health."
Sreang said it was difficult to get good staff to work in
the prison because the pay was so poor $10 a month and
even that was often delayed three to four months.
And he said the working conditions in prisons were much
worse than for regular police.