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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Heat on govt to act on military murders

Heat on govt to act on military murders

H UMAN rights organizations in Cambodia and abroad have been closely monitoring

what they say is a clear case of local police and military officers brazenly

murdering two civilians in Battambang province.

The incident is being

seen as a clear test of whether the government has the political will to arrest

officials involved in gross human rights violations.

On the afternoon of

Feb 5, farmer Neth Thong, 28, and Mov Ving, 28, a Funcinpec militiaman, were

playing volleyball in Mong Russei district when approximately 30 government

soldiers, police, and militia surrounded them at gun point, took them into

custody, and later executed them at point blank range, according to numerous

witnesses and family members.

The Cambodian human rights organizations

LICAHDO and ADHOC have been instrumental in collecting information on the

cases.

Gunshots were heard less than an hour after the arrest. The bodies

were found the next morning in a nearby field. They had been handcuffed, and

shot in the head and elsewhere with assault rifles. Evidence indicated they were

also severely beaten.

Both victims were Funcinpec party members,

according to family members.

Numerous witnesses were present at the

arrest which was carried out without a warrant. Witnesses said the soldiers and

police were led by Chhoun Ka'th, a militia chief in nearby Mong Kal

commune.

Also present at the arrest were Khan, the district military

chief; Vy, the Mong commune military chief; the district police chief and

others.

Human rights officials say it is a clear test of whether

Cambodia's judiciary - designed to be independent under the terms of the

constitution and the Paris Agreements - is able to take action against other

government officials who have political power but are involved in

crime.

The Ministries of Interior, Defence and Justice were all

officially informed in February of the details of the case by human rights

organizations, as were the military court in Phnom Penh, the Battambang

provincial court, the chief of military police in Battambang and the chief of

the civilian police in the province.

The United Nations Center of Human

Rights is also investigating. To date, no action has been taken to arrest the

suspects or interview the witnesses. A government prosecutor has, however, asked

local human rights organiztions not to publicize their findings.

The

courts, through local prosecutors, and the Justice Ministry are responsible to

take action in such cases. But, says one foreign Human Rights lawyer here: "The

problem is there is a sense of impunity among the military so there is no

authority willing to take action against members of the police or military who

commit serious abuses."

When family members attempted to intervene, one

of the armed men said: "If you ask for their release, I will kill you too,"

according to one witness interviewed by rights workers.

At the funeral

of the victims, local authorities interrogated the family members and asked

them: "Why are you having a funeral for the Khmer Rouge?" according to human

rights workers.

Despite what investigators say is overwhelming evidence,

no arrests have been made. Numerous witnesses and family members of the victims

have been intimidated and threatened with death, human rights investigators say.

Several witnesses have fled their homes and some are now living in an area

pagoda.

The police report on the killings was allegedly written by Chhoun

Ka'th, the head of the Mong Kal commune militia who is alleged to be the leader

of the gang of armed government officials who arrested and executed the

two.

On Feb 20 Amnesty International released an Urgent Action, one of

their highest forms of international appeal.

"Relatives of two men

recently killed by members of the Cambodian security forces are now in fear for

their own safety," the Amnesty appeal said. "Local authorities seem to be

unwilling to investigate these killings on the grounds that these men were

alleged to be members of the outlawed Partie of Democratic Kampuchea. A police

report on the incident alleges that Neth Thong and Mov Ving were PDK members,

but it is believed that the report was written by one of the 30 armed

men."

The Amnesty report continued: "The villagers and relatives insist

that the men did not belong to the Khmer Rouge but were members of the legal,

Royalist FUNCINPEC party. Relatives believe that the two men may have been

killed for personal reasons, by people in positions of authority within the

province of Battambang who are using the political situation as a smoke screen

for illegal acts."

But villagers and other witnesses say the real reason

for the killings appear to be a personal dispute involving the commune militia

chief Chhoun Ka'th. In Jan 94, Chhoun Ka'th's brother, Chhoun Chherth, was

involved in a dispute in which he physically assaulted a man named Vannak.

Vannak was then said to join the Khmer Rouge. Chhoun Chherth was later abducted

and murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Chhoun Ka'th believed that the two victims were

involved in the killing of his brother and had threatened to murder them

previously, according to villagers.

Political manipulation of the the

"Khmer Rouge Outlaw Law", passed last July, continues to remain a major concern

among Cambodian opposition politicians and human rights organizations who say

the potential for abuse is immense.

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