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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Corpses in saffron? Death toll climbs to 18

Corpses in saffron? Death toll climbs to 18

Corpses in saffron? Death toll climbs to 18

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TERRIFIED

An opposition rallier begs for mercy after being caught by police.

MYSTERIOUS corpses - some allegedly clad in monks' robes - are continuing to turn

up around Phnom Penh. International borders are still closed to opposition leaders.

Some Cambodian activists are lying low as a result, while others are carrying on

their activities regardless.

Sixteen bodies, including two dressed in saffron robes, "have been found floating

in rivers, in irrigation ditches, and in shallow graves around the capital"

since police began cracking down on anti-government demonstrators, according to a

Sept 16 statement from Thomas Hammarberg, the United Nations human rights envoy for

Cambodia.

"Many of the bodies bear signs of torture or other violence including bullet

wounds and strangulation marks. Several of the bodies had their hands tied behind

their back and were gagged and blindfolded," the statement reads. Three were

women.

Four bodies have been examined by UN workers and the other 12 have been described

in detail by multiple witnesses, Hammarberg's statement said. His office is investigating

a "further dozen reports of bodies".

These numbers do not include two additional men verified dead during demonstrations

in the past two weeks.

Only one of the sixteen bodies, which rights workers deemed "definitely an execution",

has been identified. The body of Sath Sopheatra, a 10th-grader at Bak Touk High School,

was found Sept 10. Hammarberg reported that the boy was apparently executed by military

police, and that he was "reported to have taken part in demonstrations up to

Sept 8".

The victim's father, Sath Sophal - a battalion commander in the Protection Unit of

the police, which helped break up demonstrations on Sept 8 - said he wasn't sure

what to believe about his son's death.

Military police told him his son was involved in a robbery and killed in an exchange

of fire. But a young student told him that his son had been arrested during a street

demonstration.

"I found some bullet casings only 4 meters from the body," said Sophal,

who identified his son's remains. "If there was an exchange of fire, why were

no MPs hurt?" He also said he found it hard to believe that his good-natured,

dutiful son - who loved nothing better than to sing karaoke, and who always told

his parents where he was if he stayed out late - would be involved in a robbery.

On the other hand, he said he had encouraged his son to stay away from the student

marches. All he knows is that Sopheatra disappeared on the 9th and is now dead. The

grieving father wants answers.

"There are laws written in Cambodia about executing people," he said. "I

want to find out who is the killer and also who is behind the killer."

Gen Chhin Chan Pour, deputy chief of the national military police, said the case

was definitely a robbery.

"This is 100% sure they are robbers," he said. "These robbers were

caught by the people and given to the police and military police, but the people

got very angry because they were robbers, and they were beating them. They tried

to run away but were shot by armed forces... This case is clear."

Hammarberg has pledged to forward all information on confirmed cases of execution

to the government for investigation. He also called for full disclosure of arrests

made since the crackdowns on demonstrators began.

Khieu Sopheak reported that there were 29 people in custody after the last crackdown,

on a Sept 14 march, but that only ten remained under arrest. Cases against two policemen

have been referred to the military court, while eight people in possession of anti-government

leaflets have cases pending in municipal court.

Although no opposition politicians have been arrested, the secretary-general of the

Sam Rainsy Party said that he and the entire steering committee, plus all the new

MPs-elect, are in hiding for the moment.

"I am neither at the office or at my house," Yim Sokha said Sept 16. "To

do this is to avoid pressure from the ruling party to convene the National Assembly."

According to Sokha, the steering committee and MPs took this decision independently

of party president Rainsy, who remained under United Nations protection at presstime,

but that he had been informed afterward.

Sokha said that he would remain in hiding until several conditions were fulfilled:

that Rainsy leaves the United Nations office, where he had been since Sept 7; that

the UN gives him protection; and that the CPP drops Second Prime Minister Hun Sen

as its candidate for premier.

Rainsy and several senior party members did appear in public in order to fly to Siem

Reap to meet the King on Sep 17, but were accompanied by a UN escort.

"We are very concerned about our security," Sokha added.

Adding to his worries is a notorious new government list of names. It has been distributed

to immigration police at the airports, border crossings and roads leading out of

Phnom Penh, according to police sources, and contains all the names of the new opposition

MPs and some Funcinpec armed forces officers.

Sokha says his name is on the list and fears that he would be disallowed to leave

if he wanted to. "It is a serious violation of human rights," he said.

Funcinpec members are not in hiding nor do they want to flee the country, according

to steering committee member Ahmad Yahya, but they may try to challenge the list

by staging a brief mass departure. "Many people plan to test it, to try to leave...

buy tickets, go with many journalists, but we don't know when," said the MP-elect.

However, an Interior Ministry spokesman said the list was not necessarily a travel

ban.

"The list at the airport is not a so-called blacklist," Khieu Sopheak said.

"It is just to mention to all immigration officials at checkpoints to report

to the 'upper classes'. The upper classes decide whether they can leave or not."

Sopheak declined to confirm who had issued the list, but hinted it came from the

highest levels, above both the immigration chief, National Police Director-General

Hok Lundy and even his own boss, Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng.

"In Cambodia, that is the authority of the government. The director-general

of police is under the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Interior is under

the government."

Deputy director of National Police Yeng Marady, whose name is on the list, said he

wasn't aware if his boss was responsible.

"I do not know who made the list... I cannot say Hok Lundy or whoever,"

he said. "I feel upset at the list because I'm not a politician, not involved

in politics, just normal police [work]. It's better to arrest me at the place where

I work rather to put my name on the list."

He added that it was his private belief that those on the list will be free to leave

as soon as the government is formed.

Authorities have also been coming into city pagodas, taking names of demonstrators,

and patrolling the gates, according to a statement from the rights group Adhoc statement

on Sept 16.

"These actions make the monks, students, Buddhist believers worry about their

safety," the statement said. Adhoc called on the authorities to stop such actions

and allow the pagodas to mark the upcoming Pchum Ben festival as normal.

Many hope the situation in the capital will improve in the wake of high-level Siem

Reap talks. But Yim Sokha is not so optimistic. "In fact, I don't hope, because

CPP is too firm ... I don't hope [the talks] will provide a positive result."

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