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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Master of the Mekong goes down

Master of the Mekong goes down

ONE of the most powerful military figures on the

Mekong was stripped of his rank and privileges last

weekend.

Lt Col Sat Soeun was ordered to take

"temporary" leave from duty Oct 24, said

government spokesman Khieu Kannarith.

Soeun, also known as Soeun Phandey, was accused and

acquitted of murdering Cambodian journalist Chan Dara in

late 1994. He has a reputation of being heavily involved

in illegal logging and had enjoyed high protection.

Last Saturday he attended a Kathen Buddhist ceremony

hosted by Hun Neng, provincial governor and elder brother

of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. Later he was seen

laughing with friends outside a dancing restaurant.

However some time after that military police entered

his house and seized all 200 of his guns.

"He hasn't been arrested, but relieved of his

military duties. There are no charges pending," said

General Prum Din, commander of a special zone in and

around Phnom Penh called 'Military Region Zero'.

"The reason he was withdrawn was for dereliction of

duty. He was engaged in illegal activities involving wood

and rubber," he said.

Soeun was unavailable for comment on any of his

telephones.

The news has shocked local residents. "Soeun

Phandey has ruled the Mekong from Kratie to Neak Leung

for five years. The river is a 'Texas place' and he is

the toughest man around. His presence is so intense that

he keeps the little-bad people under control," said

one of his neighbors fondly.

He has a fearsome reputation of violence, but also of

generosity and loyalty. Standing only about 160 cm tall,

he is tattooed from the ears down and wears amulets said

to be priceless for its power. "He eats glass and

can see everything around him - three-hundred sixty

degrees," swore an acquaintance who declined to be

named. "With weaker magic, bullets go around people.

With him the guns jam."

His recently-completed villa in Kampong Cham sports

meticulously-manicured gardens, artificial waterfalls and

two tigers from Rattanakiri. He has two 1998-model cars -

a 500 series Mercedes and a Lexus Land Cruiser - and a

200-horsepower speedboat that purportedly reaches Phnom

Penh in less than 50 minutes.

He exhibits fierce loyalty to the second prime

minister, generally wearing a Hun Sen lapel pin and

always wearing a massive five-damleng gold bracelet

engraved with "7 January 1979-Hun Sen".

Soeun allegedly amassed much of his fortune protecting

log rafts down the Mekong. One Western military attachÈ

noted: "If they can go after him, they can go after

anybody.

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