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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Murders spotlight justice in the land of DNUM

Murders spotlight justice in the land of DNUM

PAILIN - The murder of a Thai couple in this former Khmer Rouge zone prompted a security

clamp-down, a communications black-out, and an admission that a long-rumored prison

here is still operating.

The killings have highlighted the issue of justice in former rebel zones which, while

now theoretically under Royal government auspices, retain their autonomy.

Two men were arrested after the killing of the Thais, a husband and wife who owned

a mining operation in the gem-rich town, over the Khmer New Year.

Thai authorities have reportedly asked that the suspects be turned over to them,

but Pailin officials said they are still debating what to do.

Several Pailin residents, including a relative of one official, said that local justice

has already been dispensed to the two suspects - that they have been executed.

But the Pailin military police chief, Phon Sarin, said early this month that the

pair are being held in jail.

"It's under consideration whether we should offer these culprits to the Thai

authorities or not, but now they are in the Phnom Koy prison in the Pailin area,"

Sarin said.

Pailin chiefs, along with their counterparts in the other KR breakaway stronghold

of Phnom Malai, have in recent months denied the existence of prisons in their zones.

It is unclear just what Phnom Koy is. Rebel defectors interviewed in 1992 by a KR

researcher identified Phnom Koy, a hill in remote forest north of Pailin, as a place

where miscreants were executed. The site was on the edge of a small cliff overlooking

a river; bodies were thrown over the cliff, they said.

In a recent trip to Pailin, Post reporters were told that there used to be a "re-education"

center, between Pailin and the Thai border, for soldiers who committed offenses.

Officials described the center as being mined on three sides, with the only possible

escape route towards Thailand. They indicated that inmates who wanted to escape to

Thailand were, unofficially at least, permitted to do so.

While several officials cited re-education - not execution or long-term imprisonment

- as the only form of justice in Pailin, they said the re-education center had been

closed down some time ago.

Other sources who recently visited Pailin say they were told that Phnom Koy does

still exist, but that it is a re-education center, not a prison.

In Phnom Penh, the Ministry of Interior's director-general of administration at the

Ministry of Interior, Prum Sokha, said that "officially, there are no prisons

in the area controlled by former Khmer Rouge".

He added: "If there's a prison, they should report it to the Ministry of Interior

or to the provincial government authorities."

Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry was unaware of the Pailin double murder, but said

he had no ability to intervene in the case.

Hockry said the government had authorized the former KR chiefs of Pailin to "temporarily

govern" the area. He suggested that, if they had no courts of their own, they

should send the culprits to the court in government-controlled Battambang.

The murder of the Thai business couple has rocked Pailin, a town where locals pride

themselves on strict law-and-order and virtually no crime.

The husband was shot and had his throat cut, and his wife was beaten with a stick

and also had her throat slit, one night over the Khmer New Year, according to Phon

Sarin. At least 60,000 Thai baht was stolen in the attack, which happened when most

of the town's mining plots were quiet, their staff away celebrating the New Year.

Two men were caught by police several days after the attack. One was a former Pailin

resident who had been in Battambang and the other was his brother, who still lived

in Pailin.

Sarin said the police believe that the Battambang man had contacted his brother beforehand

to arrange the attack, in the same way that other criminals "inside" Cambodia

were contacting accomplices in Pailin to organize crimes.

Because of this, Pailin officials had cracked down on communication with the outside

world. ICOM radios were confiscated from nearly all local officials, and all international

telephone lines set up in shops after the KR breakaway last August were shut down.

Another source in Pailin claimed the communications black-out was to prevent local

people from hearing about the political in-fighting in Phnom Penh, but Sarin said

it was only to reduce the spread of crime.

As well as the double murder, Sarin said there had been instances of cars stolen

in Thailand being smuggled through Pailin to Battambang.

"We have had many problems because of the Thai phone lines set up here, and

without permission to be set up.... It made it hard for us to get control, and most

of the time the robbers have contacted each other through these telephones or ICOM


In one case, he said three men were arrested - at least two of whom were Cambodian

government army soldiers - and a stolen car seized. The car was returned to Thai

authorities and the three men released after unspecified "re-education".

The shut-down of phone lines in and out of the former guerrilla base and confiscation

of radios was ordered by Pailin governor Ee Chhean, one of the few officials to retain

an ICOM, according to Sarin.

At Post press time - just after a big Thai business delegation visited Pailin - it

was unclear whether the telephone ban remained in place.

Earlier, Long Norin, Secretary-General of the breakaway KR's political grouping,

the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM), said Pailin's police and military

police had been ordered to boost security.

"Most of the robbers and criminals are from inside [Cambodia] - Battambang,

Banteay Meanchey and Pursat provinces - and I am sure our people who split from Pol

Pot could not do such things," he said.

His comment echoes those of other former KR bosses who have expressed concern that

their self-proclaimed "clean" areas will be infected by the evils of the

outside world, such as prostitution, corruption and robbery.

DNUM chiefs have said that justice is dispensed by military or commune chiefs through

a system of reconciliation and re-education. They claim that executions - formerly

the ultimate sanction for grievous offenses - have not been conducted in Pailin or

Phnom Malai for several years.

"We have no courts or jails," DNUM leader Ieng Sary told the Post in March.

He said that education was the only method of punishing offenders, but added that

"in the future we [will] need prisons too".

Officials in Phnom Malai, after discussions with Banteay Meanchey provincial chiefs,

recently formed a justice committee.

The United Nations Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) sent a mission to DNUM zones in

January to discuss introducing human rights and justice programs.

"There was quite a good reception from officials and authorities in the former

KR zones," said David Hawk, officer-in-charge of UNCHR.

It was hoped that some kind of program could be begun before the onset of the rainy

season, when road transport would be difficult, he said.

Asked whether UNCHR regional offices would be set up in Pailin and Phnom Malai, for

instance, he said "small units" were being considered.

Hawk said the former rebels had a type of justice system, and were creating police

forces separate from the military, but they "really had no idea of how this

sort of thing is set up and running elsewhere in the country".



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