A package containing charred human remains was delivered to the Cambodia National Rescue Party office in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
Despite a seeming complete absence of hard evidence, some are convinced the remains – found on Saturday at a mountain in Kampong Speu – belong to 16-year-old garment worker Khim Saphath, last seen with blood pouring from his chest after police opened fire with live ammunition during a January 3 garment strike crackdown on Veng Sreng Boulevard.
Dim Keang, a local CNRP activist, retrieved the remains from Mareas Prov mountain in Samrong Tong district on Saturday, after being led there by local villager Mao Touch.
Because locals say they saw a truck travelling to the vicinity on the night of January 3, followed by what appeared to be the glow of a fire, Keang said he believes that Saphath’s body was burned there by soldiers, despite no examination of the remains having been carried out to this point.
Yesterday, just hours after making the trip from Kampong Speu with the remains in tow, Keang went into hiding after learning that Touch had been detained by police for questioning.
“Police took my son this morning at 7am, and to this point he has not returned,” Yim Sorn, Touch’s father-in-law, said yesterday evening.
“They took him to the commune police station and now to the provincial police station. “My son did not do anything wrong, he just found the area [where the body was burned].”
According to Preap Porn, a CNRP official who sits on the council of Srang commune, where Touch lives, and who accompanied Keang to Phnom Penh with the remains, Keang is now in hiding because he fears being arrested.
But Sam Sak, head of the Kampong Speu provincial police’s serious crime department, said officers had merely called in Touch to clarify what he had found at Mareas Prov mountain.
“We want him to clarify and show us what he saw at the place where the incident took place. He has clarified differently from [what] Dim Keang has claimed. He said that he has never met Dim Keang although Dim Keang has said that he went to [the site] with Mao Touch. He also said that he only found ashes there and no remains,” he said.
Sak added that Touch would be released tomorrow and that police now wished to speak with Keang.
Teang Sien, an opposition provincial councillor in Kampong Speu province, told the Post yesterday that he, Keang and Porn had brought the remains to Phnom Penh in a car yesterday on the orders of Nuth Romdoul, a CNRP lawmaker-elect in Kampong Speu.
A Post reporter also saw a package allegedly containing those remains – which are said to include a skull and several bones – on the table of an office at CNRP headquarters yesterday morning.
Both Romdoul and CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith declined to comment yesterday as to what they were going to do with the remains or why the party was keeping them.
Kim Souern, the father of Khim Saphath, whose family held a funeral for their missing son soon after he disappeared in January, said yesterday that he had no idea whether the remains belonged to Saphath.
He also revealed that weeks after Saphath disappeared, the family received an anonymous phone call saying that two to three bodies had been burned near Mareas Prov mountain, not far from an army barracks.
“They said that two or three dead bodies were burnt in a fire with car tyres. But I don’t know whether or not either of them were my son,” he said.
“I have nothing more to say. I just have regret. If someone asks me to examine the remains I will.”
Providing further fodder for conspiracy theorists, police and rights groups attempting to access the site where the remains were found yesterday were blocked by soldiers, who said that they were conducting a training exercise with live ammunition.
Investigators from rights groups Adhoc and Licadho both said that soldiers from the elite Brigade 70 unit had blocked them from entering the site.
“The soldiers guarding there did not even allow police to examine the location where the body was burned.… I think the allegation that the army is training is just a pretext,” Rath Thavy, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said.
But Sak, of the Kampong Speu police unit that is investigating the case, said that after the military exercise concluded today, police would be allowed to enter to investigate.
Adhoc has also called for the remains to be sent to Thailand for DNA testing.
“We cannot know if the remains belong to anyone until we do a DNA test,” Ny Chakrya, head of human rights and legal aid at the organisation, said.
Mao Sophan, commander of Brigade 70, could not be reached yesterday.