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One year after deaths, NGOs slam inaction

As a year approaches since government security forces shot dead at least five people on Veng Sreng Boulevard at the height of garment strikes and opposition protests, rights groups have condemned the lack of thorough investigations, including into the disappearance of a missing teenager.

Khim Saphath, 16, was last seen nursing a bloody chest wound after heavily armed security forces opened fire on strikers last January 3.

“The government claims to have investigated [his] disappearance, to have conducted forensic tests on the remains and determined that they are not those of . . . Sophath,” a statement from 35 NGOs says.

But authorities, the statement adds, have provided no details of the forensic investigation. They have also not requested DNA samples from Sophath’s family members for comparison. Human remains suspected to be Sophath’s were found near the notorious Brigade 70’s base in Kampong Speu province in May. At one point, they were in the possession of an opposition activist, but it is unclear at what stage the government took hold of them.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Ministry of Interior had set up a special committee to investigate and referred questions to spokesman Khieu Sopheak, whose phone was off.

Several opposition lawmakers and NGO spokespeople also could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The NGO statement also calls the government out for its supposed “investigation” of the known deaths on Veng Sreng.

“A government ‘investigation’ into the violence headed by the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng is reported to have lasted just three weeks,” the statement says. “Few of its findings have been made public and no action is known to have been taken as a result of the investigation.”

The statement contrasted the slow progress of the investigation to the swift incarceration of 23 activists on January 2 and 3.

“In contrast, the 23 were held in pre-trial detention for five months and convicted following a manifestly unfair trial,” the statement said.

Sophath’s father, Soeun, said this week that he has heard little information about his son’s whereabouts.

“I have not filed a complaint to the police, because I don’t think they will take action or pay attention to my son’s case,” he said, adding he had instead complained directly to NGOs.

Memorial services at Veng Sreng, involving survivors, workers, NGOs and the opposition, will be held throughout the weekend.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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