THE MASSACRE of 13 Jarai hill tribes people in Ratanakkiri last month was a
targeted attack and not random banditry according to human rights workers,
Ratanakkiri provincial government officials and victims' relatives.
human rights worker familiar with the case, but who requested anonymity for
reasons of personal safety, rejected as "ludicrous" government and media
explanations of the July 6-7 blood bath that claimed the lives of 13 Jarai and
one Vietnamese as the work of bandits.
"The media would have us believe
that [a] group of experienced former Khmer Rouge jungle fighters, who'd spent
years wandering around the forests of Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri, inexplicably
got lost looking for Route 19 and then murdered 13 Jarai because they were upset
they couldn't speak Khmer," the worker told the Post .
"It just doesn't
add up ... Anyone who spends any length of time in that area knows that Route 19
is due north of that area ... you can't miss it.
"The suggestion that
these guys were 'lost' and weren't familiar with the Jarai language is
The rights worker also said that there was doubt about the
reliability of some of the witnesses' accounts on which initial media reports
In the Jarai village of Lum in O Yaw Daw District of
Ratanakkiri, whose residents were six of the massacre's 14 victims, friends and
relatives of the dead expressed similar skepticism about the role ethnicity
played in the choice of victims.
"Where did these 'bandits' come from?"
asked an angry Pou Plum, Head of the Lum Village Development
"I want to know why [the killers] released Khmer and Lao
[hostages] and only killed Yuon (Vietnamese) and Jarai."
First Deputy Governor Van Chhornly thinks he has the answer.
begged for their lives and used deceptive, conciliatory gestures to placate the
killers," Chhornly explained.
"The Jarai are very straight, honest and
truthful people, whose simple responses made the bandits very angry, so they
killed the Jarai."
The suggestion that the killers were ex-Khmer Rouge
jungle fighters is greeted with hoots of derision at a gathering of relatives of
Lum's victims attended by the Post on Aug 10.
"If they were ex-KR, why
were they all wearing police and military uniforms?" asks Lum Village Chief
Rosmas Chves. "Why were they carrying ICOMs [two-way radios]?"
the official version of the killers' identities has already shifted from that
touted in the immediate aftermath of the massacre.
"According to my
information, [the killers] were bodyguards of a logging concession in Kratie
Province," said Ratanakkiri Second Deputy Provincial Governor Bun Hom Oun Many.
Chhornly, however, strenuously denied that the killers were part of a
single, organized group.
"The killers included forest concession security
guards as well as former police and RCAF," Chhornly said.
"They all just
came together to form this group of bandits."
Oun Many also told the Post
that the death toll of the suspected killers had risen from one (a suspect
beaten to death by enraged relatives of the victims in the Jarai village of Tien
on July 8) to nine.
"They were all killed in shoot-outs with police and
military on the border of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri," Oun Many said, confirming
that two ICOM sets had been recovered from the eight dead suspects.
two other bandits are still at large, but we have them surrounded."
lack of living suspects linked to the crime increases the suspicion of the human
"It's very opportune, isn't it?" the worker said of the
deaths of the suspected killers.
"Dead men tell no tales, and the
authorities seem intent on ensuring these [murder suspects] don't stay
The depth of concern and skepticism regarding the official
explanation of the circumstances behind the murder of the Jarai is reflected in
the reaction of the Cambodia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Phnom Penh.
UNHCHR's Special Representative to
Cambodia has written a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing his
"condolences and concerns" about the killings.
Meanwhile UNHCHR Director
Rosemary MacCreary has stated that there is "an ongoing investigation" into the
However staff working on the investigation would not comment
what that investigation had yielded
Back in Lum, villagers remark on what
they refer to as the "peculiar timing" of the massacre.
"Only one month
before, the [seven member] village militia was disbanded and had its guns taken
away," said Plum of the government's new gun confiscation policy.
killers] must have known we didn't have any guns to protect ourselves .... If
we'd had guns they would have killed some of us, but we would have killed some
of them to make it even."
Lum villagers also castigate government
officials for what they perceive as a lack of enthusiasm in apprehending the
"One day after the murders two of the killers were spotted
nearby [Lum], but when we asked the military to come and arrest them they never
showed up," Chves said.
"The military has to come and look for the
killers if they want to find them, but so far they haven't done that."
a result, the Jarai villagers of Lum are terrified that their village may once
again, at any time, be the subject of a "random" attack by armed
"We want the [Ratanakkiri] provincial authorities to provide a
detachment of ten military or police to guard our village," Chves
"Either that or they should reactivate the village militia and give
us back our guns."
Although Oun Many insisted that the provincial
government had in fact "temporarily reactivated" the Lum militia and handed back
their weapons, the people of Lum denied that any such action had
"We heard on the radio that the village militia should prepare
to be activated, but that's all," Plum said. "There's been no mention of us
getting our guns back."
The steady stream of strangers who traverse the
narrow track that passes from Route 19 down through Lum to a Vietnamese border
post has also been a source of concern for villagers.
"We want the
provincial authorities to close this road to through traffic ... We can't
distinguish who the good people and who the evil people might be [who use the
road]," Plum explained.
"If the [provincial] authorities don't agree to
do this, we'll block the road ourselves."
The pervasive fear present in
the people of Lum has also taken a serious toll on the village's future food
"Many people have been too afraid to leave their homes and go
to tend their fields since this has happened," Plum said.
"Wild pigs and
cows have invaded the fields and eaten the crops ... Rice seedlings have
withered or been destroyed because people haven't been tending
Chves warns that if provincial authorities don't respond favorably
to their concerns, the village will consider abandoning their lives in Cambodia
"We can't survive here if we don't get assistance and
protection from the [provincial] authorities," Chves said. "If we don't get the
assistance we need, we'll go to Vietnam, where life is safer."