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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Political executions: one hundred and rising

Political executions: one hundred and rising

THE tally of political murder in Cambodia is - as of today - more than 100 people,

all killed within in the last nine months.

The United Nations Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) is poised to publish within a

week a report investigating a number of deaths since the 41 killed during and after

last July's coup. UN Envoy Thomas Hammarberg put the number of new cases at "more

than 50".

The Post accompanied rights workers this week to Banteay Meanchey and found evidence

of another four uninvestigated deaths. Rights workers - since the Center's report

- know of at least another "five or six".

Rights workers and others are worried that international electoral donors are turing

a blind eye to the catalogues of killing being compiled.

"We know there's killings going on, we know nothing's being done," said

one Western diplomat. "Nobody feels they can come down on these important issues

without annoying Hun Sen... The pragmatic view is, 'How many more people will be

killed if we annoy Hun Sen?'"

The diplomat said that donors felt they should reward the Second Prime Minister for

allowing Prince Ranariddh to return and, with few exceptions, not press the human

rights issue.

One rights worker said he believed donor nations would swallow almost any amount

of political violence.

British Ambassador George Edgar - one of the four diplomats who is monitoring the

political climate for the EU, which is helping to fund the polls - told the Post

it would be unhelpful of him to comment on a report he had not seen.

He could not comment on whether the latest UNCHR report would be discussed at the

next "Friends of Cambodia" meeting in Bangkok on April 19, nor if it would

sway the EU's decision to continue funding the electoral process.

When asked what was his reaction to reports detailing another 50 killings, he paused

and said: "What exactly do you mean, reaction? It's really not helpful for me

to comment."

The report, which will detail "a significant number" of executions, will

be submitted to the government before it is released publicly, according to Center

director Rosemary McCreery.

The UN's previous rights report was pilloried by Hun Sen who accused UN staff of

a lack of professionalism in compiling reports of 41 "confirmed" executions

and a total of more than 100 likely executions in the month and a half following

the July coup.

Another diplomat, again from a country involved in electoral funding, emphasized

the importance the international community places on the human rights climate and

the new report, but was cautious in talking about reported executions until he had

seen it.

The diplomat said that the report is likely to be given some weight by UN members,

and the government will once again have a chance to offer its defense. "No one

has the report in their hands... There is the report but there is also the response

of the government. Their response must be seriously considered."

The government maintains it is doing all it can to create a safe atmosphere for elections.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said: "If there is violence or an

atmosphere of intimidation, it affects a free, fair and credible election... We do

[our] best to prevent intimidation, violence or anything that is not accepted by

the people or by the international community."

Yet rights groups agree that cases of political execution appear to have accelerated

since September.

And rights workers have cited at least nine more likely political executions they

are investigating, unearthed since the second UN rights report was drafted, which

would bring the death toll up to 100.

"This is probably a fraction of the real number," one source said, noting

that many killings are not categorized as political even though most indications

say they are. Some executions with apparent political motivations have been excluded

from the lists due to issues such as uncertain transliteration of names, in an attempt

to make the report as tight as possible.

In addition to the alleged executions noted in the UN rights reports, strong evidence

has emerged that a spate of killing and intimidation has occurred against suspected

resistance supporters in O'Baichoan, 9km south of Thailand in Banteay Meanchey.

On Feb 27 in Snoul Tret village, six men in military uniforms opened fire with B40

rockets and killed Col Tem Sophat, 56, a bodyguard of resistance general Lay Virak,

villagers said. The attackers also killed Sophat's child, Tem Kleng, 8, and another,

Mel Chhak, 12.

They warned his neighbors that the same could happen to them, before burning down

Sophat's house. The three bodies are said to be buried in a grave at the back of

his house.

Most of the people have since deserted the village.

Sophat, a former Moulinaka resistance fighter loyal to Lay Virak since 1979, had

received authorization to take leave from the resistance and returned home in November,

according to a family member.

One well-informed source suggested CPP-allied forces killed Sophat, who was the effective

village chief of Snoul Tret, for two possible reasons.

One theory was he had been discovered as a resistance recruiter in a de-stabilized

area, while a second was he was trying to protect rice land from CPP officials with

a systematic plan to cut into resistance resources.

"I was told the CPP wants to take over all rice land of commanders of Lay Virak,"

the source said.

One rights worker fretted that the attack might be the "beginning of a pattern

to terrorize former and potential resistance members and their families in an area

where the government has a weak grip" by demonstrating the cost of siding with

the resistance.

Other attacks were cited in the area, including the killing of Lt Col Kem Dara, believed

to have taken place on Dec 21 or 22, which does not yet appear to have been investigated

by rights workers.

Dara was reportedly killed in his home at harvest time as he was trying to negotiate

to keep half of the harvest, according to the source. "The rice was taken by

the CPP alone."

As for the killing of Sophat, Oun Sary - who CPP-friendly officials appointed village

chief at about the time of Sophat's killing - claimed Lay Virak's resistance forces

killed him because he betrayed them and refused to do his assigned job of providing

them with intelligence information.

At least two other families threatened included former Moulinaka resistance fighters

- like many of those listed in the original UN report - and their abandoned houses

have since been reduced to ash.

After the resistance dropped a note into the village inviting villagers to seek "justice

for the dead and wounded... [and] come to the forest", the village chief took

1,114 villagers to a pagoda some 10km due south protected by the government's Division

12.

"[But] villagers have no confidence in Division 12," one rights worker

said. "Many villagers said they were afraid to say who had done [the killing].

Why would they be afraid to say who had done that if it was the resistance who they

are now far from? It was Division 12."

The displaced from Snoul Tret were joined by another 441 villagers from Kla Kaun

- also known as Kaun Trei - where three family members and acquaintances of resistance

Lt Col Bun Sovana were executed Feb 19 after Sovana joined Lay Virak's resistance

forces, rights workers said.

Former resistance supporter Chea Samnang, 39, Touch Tum, 45, and her child by Sovana,

18-year-old Bun Vannak, were shot dead some 300 meters from their homes, according

to local sources. Sovana has since been reported dead, having succumbed to land mine

injuries suffered last week.

Rights workers worry the three incidents bode poorly for possible attempts to re-integrate

or decommission resistance soldiers in the northwest and they note that the toll

goes far beyond the taking of these seven lives.

Rights workers in other parts of the country have engaged in investigations into

many other alleged political executions.

One such case involves a Funcinpec military officer, Lt Col Chea Vutha, who was shot

dead less than 48 hours before his party leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, returned

from exile.

On March 28, the day of his death, Vutha had left his home in Kien Svay, Kandal and

traveled to Funcinpec headquarters in Phnom Penh. He had been lying low since July's

coup, but that morning he filled out a form to re-register with Funcinpec.

He returned to Kien Svay and met with district party officials, to discuss the distribution

of invitations to Ranariddh's homecoming. He then went to a drinks shop with friends,

was evidently shot by one of them on his way home, and had his motorcycle stolen.

Authorities have called the killing a robbery.

Rights workers noted that two friends and neighbors of the victim, all former Moulinaka

fighters in the same unit and more recently Funcinpec colonels, have been killed

in recent months. One, Col Krouch Bun Song, was killed Dec 24 when returning from

the same drink shop.

"It is political, not robbery," said one investigator on the Vutha case,

noting that his caseload is devoid of dead CPP members. "It's always Funcinpec

and Sam Rainsy Party [members] killed all the time."

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