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High officials implicated in Koh Kong massacre

High officials implicated in Koh Kong massacre

PERPETRATORS of the summary execution of eight men in Koh Kong province have escaped

justice after the intervention of the provincial governor, according to human rights

investigators.

A probe into the February killings on an island in the remote province has revealed

a tale of revenge and intrigue - and of what happens to those who challenge the existing

"business" hierachy.

Investigators from the human rights NGO's, LICADHO and ADHOC, recently travelled

to the anarchy of Koh Kong in Cam-bodia's south west after a newspaper reported the

discovery of 22 bound and blindfolded bodies in a cave on Koh Andeuk (Turtle Island).

What they discovered was an efficient police investigation into the murder of eight

bandits, a subsequent conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and a first deputy

governor who now fears for his life.

The story began one night early in February.

Korng Hong, the village chief of Klong Chech had invited about 20 villagers into

his home to watch television. As village chief he enjoys respect and the power which,

according to investigators, has allowed him to prosper through fishing, trading fuel

and the export of sawn timber.

At about 9:30pm a gang of armed men burst into his house. One of the villagers tried

to escape but was smashed to the ground with a well placed rifle butt.

The bandits stole about $4,000 in gold, approximately $8,000 in Thai baht and abducted

Korng Hong, his wife and daughter.

They ordered him to collect a ransom of approximately $8,500 in gold and Thai baht,

which he paid. Hong, his wife and child were released and the bandits headed off

into the night toward their mountain hideout.

According to one investigator the gang had been operating in the region for at least

a year and had "links" with unidentified local authorities.

For a small percentage of the "takings" the gang was tolerated as it attacked

fishing boats and villages.

But on this particular night, the bandits chose the wrong target.

Korng Hong was furious and quickly organised a posse of armed villagers to pursue

the bandits. Somehow, in the dark, on a beach about six kilometers north of Klong

Chek, they ambushed the gang, killing one whose body was discovered the following

morning.

The rest of the gang escaped into the jungle.

Some days later a stranger wandered into the nearby commune of Phimeas. He said he

wanted to buy rice, but commune chief Seng Sauv was suspicious. He ordered the man's

arrest and, according to invstigators, after a three day beating he confessed to

being one of the bandits and agreed to lead the authorities to their jungle base.

Armed militia made their way into the mountainous country where an exchange of fire

took place. Eight people were captured, including two who claimed not to have been

involved with the robbery. The gang leaders escaped into the surrounding forest.

It transpired that the group was from Takeo and had come to Koh Kong to cut timber

and exploit certain other "opportunities".

Meanwhile, Koh Kong's first deputy governor, Pal San, had been following events and

ordered Seng Sauv to bring the captured bandits to the provincial prison in Koh Kong

town.

Seng Sauv hired a boat, but it made a detour to Koh Andeuk. The prisoners, tied and

blindfolded, were ordered off the boat at gunpoint. Two were killed on the beach

while six were herded together and led into a small valley, where they were executed.

On the February 11, local fishermen noticed the stench of decaying flesh.

They discovered the bodies and informed provincial police, who travelled to Koh Andeuk,

examined the bodies and interviewed Seng Sauv.

He confessed that he ordered the killings.

While in custody he elaborated, claiming he acted on the instructions of Kiri Sarkor

district chief, Phy Toun Phlamkeyson - the son of Koh Kong Governor, Rung Phlamkeyson

- and another district official, Heang Satha.

However, according to investigators, Seng Sauv was released from prison on the Governor's

instructions and has since escaped to Thailand with the seven militiamen who carried

out the killings.

The investigating team also failed to locate Phy Toun Phlam-keyson.

They went to his office but were told he had gone on a "visit" to Thailand.

Investigators are now concerned for the safety of Koh Kong's first Deputy Governor,

Pal San, who, they say, has pursued the case at great personal risk.

Speaking through an interpreter, an ADHOC investigator said Pal San had lodged a

writ with the Interior Ministry seeking to rearrest Seng Sauv and others implicated

in the massacre.

"It's unlikely there will be justice and I am afraid for Mr Pal San," he

said.

"It will be very easy for someone to shoot him in Koh Kong."

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