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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kidnap arrests spark controversy

Kidnap arrests spark controversy

kidnap.jpg
kidnap.jpg

Three suspects detained: (from left) Yan Sitha, Soch Sophanara, Houth Tharith.

THE Nov 11 arrests of three alleged kidnappers of Sam Rainsy Party MP Lon Phon have

been complicated by apparent contradictions in police evidence and an angry response

from the Prime Minister over what he termed "foreign interference" in the

case.

At a Phnom Penh police press conference on Nov 16, Soch Sophanara, Houth Tharith

and Yan Sitha were presented as members of a seven member kidnapping gang that abducted

Phon on Oct 6. Houth Ravuth, a 32 year-old medical student described as the group's

leader, remains at large with four other suspects: Ream Ruom, Tuy Ponlok, Prom Ratanak

and Lay Ravuth.

Phon was released unharmed on Oct 9 after the payment of a $140,000 ransom in marked

bills, the bulk of which was loaned to Phon's family as a "personal loan"

from Kem Sokhavy, wife of Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

At the time questions were raised as to why the police did not lie in wait for the

kidnappers at the ransom exchange.

Phon's kidnapping has been widely dismissed by SRP spokes-people as "a government

trick" and part of an alleged ongoing pattern of official intimidation of SRP

members that has included the arrests of SRP activists Kang Bun Heang and Mong Davuth

in connection with a rocket attack on Prime Minister Hun Sen's motorcade in Sep 1998.

And Sam Rainsy himself has said that he did not believe that those arrested were

the real kidnappers.

Police have been under intense pressure to make arrests in the case, and officials

at the Nov. 16 press conference revealed that evidence used to support the arrests

had been supplied by numerous high officials including Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister

Sar Kheng, Chief of National Police Hok Lundy and Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara.

Bloodstains originating from a head injury Phon sustained during his abduction figured

large in the police evidence against the seven suspects. Police presented reporters

with the bloodstained trunk of a Toyota Camry police say was used in the commission

of the crime and a bloodstained shirt believed to have been Lon Phon's reportedly

found in the home of one of the kidnappers, however the shirt appeared to have been

freshly laundered and pressed.

The police also claimed that Ravuth was a known kidnapper and had been tried and

sentenced in absentia to 18 years jail in August for kidnapping.

However an investigating judge involved with that case said there had been an absentia

trial but Ravuth's name never came up in the case and he had neither been convicted

or sentenced. Another investigating judge present during the interview said "don't

believe everything in a police report."

Police and officials claim Ravuth is currently in hiding but friends are concerned

he has made no attempt to contact them for help.

Till recently it is understood he had been completing a medical internship in Kampong

Cham.

Despite police assertions that he was already a wanted man, staff at Phnom Penh Medical

School said that police had never made any inquiries about his whereabouts. Neighbors

of the house Lon Phon was allegedly held in also said that police had not interviewed

them about activities around the house at the time of the kidnapping.

The police case is based heavily on confessions by those already in custody.

When asked if they were guilty one of the men arrested said he had been charged because

he had rented a house to the other suspects.

The others mainly remained silent during a brief conversation with the Post , just

before they were taken to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to be charged, however one

said that they had not been mistreated by the police.

A further element of controversy has erupted in the case when it was revealed that

Ravuth was a friend of His Majesty The King's biographer Julio Jeldres.

Ambassador Jeldres wrote to the King asking him to assist in convincing the authorities

not to use violence when they attempted to apprehend Ravuth and to make sure he was

treated fairly.

His request and the King's instruction regarding the matter were leaked to the Cambodian

newspaper Reasmei Kampuchea which took a strong editorial line against the move.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted in Reasmei Kampuchea as also criticizing the letter

saying it was interference in Cambodia's internal affairs.

However Ambassador Jeldres hit back at the comments saying he contacted the King

because of His Majesty's concern for ordinary people.

"I wrote to His Majesty because he is the only person that cares about the welfare

of ordinary Cambodians," he said.

"I simply asked His Majesty's assistance to ensure that the police do not use

violence when arresting him and expressed the hope that proper justice would take

its course.

" I never asked for an amnesty or special treatment for Ravuth."

On a personal note Ambassador Jeldres told the Post that he had known Ravuth and

his family since 1993 and did not believe they would be involved in criminal activities.

In his letter to the king he described Ravuth as a "true Khmer who really wishes

to help his country."

He said Ravuth had turned down an offer to emigrate because "he felt that as

a doctor he was needed in Cambodia."

However Ambassador Jeldres said that if the charges against Ravuth were proved in

a properly constituted court of law then he should be punished accordingly but if

it was not proved then redress was called for.

"If it is proven that he is innocent and that he had been set up by elements

of the Cambodian Government who dislike me, then I expect a proper apology from the

Cambodian government towards Ravuth, His Majesty the King and myself."

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