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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KNP in 'hostage' row; armed police surround HQ

KNP in 'hostage' row; armed police surround HQ

"NOBODY forced me in here," said traffic policeman Khuon Sophy of his alleged

'detention' in the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) headquarters as heavily armed police

surrounded the building on Jan 29.

Within an hour, however, Sophy - under the eye of senior police commanders - was

maintaining: "They forcibly brought me here."

The about-face in the stories of KNP's two alleged police "hostages" was

evident for all to see during a three-hour siege of the party's Phnom Penh premises.

The scene was played out in front of some 100 party workers, human rights officials

and journalists, ironically forced to be witnesses by the refusal of the police outside

to let them leave.

Up to 80 police - toting everything from video cameras to rocket launchers - surrounded

the building. They obtained a warrant to search it on the grounds that the two officers

inside had been forced there at gunpoint.

The police left after three hours, with their two colleagues, one AK47 gun - licensed

to a bodyguard of party founder Sam Rainsy - and a walkie-talkie radio. No criminal

charges have been laid in relation to the incident.

The drama unfolded after police stationed on St. 214 near the KNP offices stopped

an allegedly stolen car being driven by the party's deputy treasurer, Kuoy Bunroeun.

The KNP official, who said he borrowed the car and did not know it had earlier been

stolen, said he was asked to produce his registration by Khuon Sophy, the traffic

policeman, and military police officer Chhuon Chhat.

At the same time, three armed men on a motorcycle - understood to be Ministry of

Interior officers - arrived at the scene.

"When I got out of the car to produce my driving license to the police, the

three men in civilian clothes held me at gunpoint and pushed me back into the car,"

Bunroeun said.

He said he wrestled with the men, and was hit with a gun-butt on his shoulder, before

managing to escape. The men took the car.

Bunroeun returned to the KNP office and told his colleagues what had happened. Believing

that he had been the subject of an armed robbery, a group of people went to talk

to Sophy and Chhat.

The two policemen - in circumstances that were to be the center of later dispute

- were escorted to the KNP office.

Bunroeun said he had asked Sophy and Chhat to act as witnesses to the "robbery"

of the car by the three men.

Sophy and Chhat agreed with Bunroeun's version - at least to begin with - as other

police arrived and began sealing off the road outside KNP.

"The victim [Bunroeun] invited us to help act as witnesses," Chhat, the

military policeman, told the Post.

Sophy added: "We were asked to come here to help clarify the incident."

Asked if he was made to enter the premises, he said: "No... nobody forced me

in here."

However, the police outside reckoned otherwise. Dozens of officers, from the national,

municipal, military and traffic police forces, converged on KNP en masse, with an

array of weapons. Several had rocket launchers, with up to six spare rockets each,

others had AK47s and "tommy-gun" style machine guns. At least one officer

filmed the scene with a video camera.

By the time senior police - including municipal penal police chief Mak Chito, traffic

police head El Samneang and municipal military police head Mak Chan Sakhan - arrived

to serve the court warrant, Sophy and Chhat were under no doubt that they had been

kidnapped.

"I tell you frankly, there were no guns, but they forcibly brought me here,"

Sophy told reporters as his boss, El Samneang, was standing nearby.

Sophy said he had been "pushed" to the KNP office by a crowd of party supporters,

despite having "raised my hands" to try to get them to leave him alone.

Sophy appeared nervous as he told his story, watched by amazed onlookers who had

heard him say the complete opposite a short time earlier.

Sakhan, chief of the local military police, declared: "They [KNP] abused their

rights by forcing them [Sophy and Chhat] to come here."

Several dozen police conducted a thorough search of the building as those inside

the premises - including a handful of foreigners who had rushed there after the first

police had arrived - were told they were under "protective detention."

Chhat and Sophy were later led away by a group of police, who also took the AK47

and walkie-talkie, but no arrests were made.

KNP Secretary-General Khieu Rada - in the absence of party leader Sam Rainsy, who

is overseas - condemned the police action as intimidation.

"All the problems were pieced together in order to find a motive to search our

place," Rada said during the police raid. "This can be considered an official

attempt to close our headquarters."

An unsigned Interior Ministry statement issued the next day threatened to sue Rada

for his "cruel and ignorant" comments which maligned "the honor and

dignity" of the Royal Government's law enforcement agencies.

Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry said this week that charges might still be laid

against KNP staff for forcing Sophy and Chhat inside KNP.

Further charges were possible because the car that had been driven by KNP treasurer

Kuoy Bunroeun had earlier been stolen, he said.

Post inquiries confirm that the car was owned by Sea Chinleng, an employee of Compagnie

Kampuchea des Carburants, who said he lent it to his friend Pang Seak Hong in December.

Hong, who has since disappeared, never returned the car and 'pawned' it to his friend

Sea Savoeun, a military police major, in return for a $3,000 loan.

Savoeun in turn lent the car to Bunroeun, his nephew, who used it until it was seized

by the three Ministry of Interior officers on the morning of the KNP siege.

Savoeun said he thought Hong owned the car and neither he nor Bunroeun had known

otherwise.

"I regret very much that the authorities did not invite my nephew to be questioned

first [rather than] causing the surprise that they did," said Savoeun.

Meanwhile, KNP has been ordered to "immediately" remove its sign and logo

from outside its headquarters, following a meeting between party representatives

and local officials that occurred at the same time as the police raid.

Suon Rindy, chief of the municipality's Daun Penh district, gave the order in a Jan

31 letter to KNP.

But party Secretary General Khieu Rada defied the order, saying: "We will not

remove them [the sign and logo]. If the district wants it, let them send troops to

do it and that will be illegal."

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