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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rumors cause jitters in the southeast

Rumors cause jitters in the southeast

Rumors cause jitters in the southeast

SVAY RIENG - Persistent rumors of an influx of police and military to Romeas Hek

district, overseen by a powerful CPP official, have made opposition parties jittery

and is causing concern among human rights groups.

Estimates of the number vary widely. The highest estimate, according to one rights

worker is that "more than 500 military, police and military police have been

sent from Phnom Penh by [National Police Chief] Hok Lundy. This is confirmed".

Police and military officials deny that new soldiers have been deployed in the area,

noting that only a handful of Flying Tiger police units have arrived recently to

counter a surge in theft in the area.

Gen. Mao Chandara, chief of staff of the national police, said: "Six moto teams

[12 persons] of Flying Tigers were sent to Svay Rieng, especially to Romeas Hek district,

because they have a very bad situation of robbery and cow and buffalo stealing, to

crack down on all those cases."

He added that the forces would be recalled to Phnom Penh before election day.

Local residents and opposition activists said they have seen only the extra Flying

Tigers. Yet some note that the extensive Bet Meas forest in Romeas Hek is an ideal

place to consolidate forces secretly.

"Bet Meas forest is a good place for building up the troops. This forest goes

through to Vietnam and joins up with Prey Veng and Kampong Cham provinces,"

said Chap Sopheap, a steering committee member of the Sam Rainsy Party, adding that

the forest was used by Khmer resistance forces against the French, and later by the

Khmer Rouge.

The present movements, apparently led by former Svay Rieng governor and CPP stalwart

Hok Lundy, have caused many to make uneasy comparisons to the post-election period

in 1993.

After Funcinpec was declared the winner of the last election, senior CPP officials

declared a secession of the Vietnam-border provinces. The tension was defused by

the formation of the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government which lasted until last year's

coup.

Jumpy area residents are questioning why the National Police Chief is taking such

an interest in a local crime crackdown just before elections. Lundy is visiting his

home province several times a month, residents say, yet officials differed on what

exactly he is doing there.

Asked why the Phnom Penh-based police chief was visiting so often, CPP provincial

governor Loy Sopath said: "Hok Lundy comes here just at our suggestion, to cooperate

with the local police." He also said about 15 Flying Tigers had been deployed,

but that it was a provincial initiative, not directed from the capital.

However, Men Koy, Romeas Hek district CPP chief, denied that there were any new police

units in the area at all.

Men Koy also denied that Lundy visited often, adding: "Hok Lundy used to come

here only to strengthen the police force."

Mao Chandara said: "My idea is that he's going to check the situation there

because he is living there, his homeland is there, maybe his relatives over there

gave him the idea there's a lot of robbery, maybe sometimes he goes privately and

sometimes for work."

When General Thong Lim, the director of criminal department of the national police,

was asked why Lundy was paying so many visits, he said: "I don't know."

Then the telephone line went dead.

Lundy himself could not be reached for comment.

Prak Sokly, a Sam Rainsy Party activist in Romeas Hek, also questioned why the crime

crackdown coincided so precisely with elections: "I don't understand why they've

just sent this force now. Why didn't they send this force before?" He said that

Hok Lundy had brought 40 police to the district on May 20 and left 20 of them behind.

A local NGO worker confirmed these numbers and said the police were giving out monosodium

glutimate in Lundy's name.

Another SRP member, Much Noeun, said he does not go to some of the villages near

the Flying Tigers' base because he is afraid of them, though he said he knew of no

violence.

A Funcinpec activist in Romeas Hek said his party members had been threatened by

the Tigers: "We don't wear our party T-shirts because they said to us, 'Be careful

of being killed'."

On the other hand, local villagers seem sanguine about the police presence. Ken Phoy,

38, from Chung Prey village said: "I can sleep well when they are coming here,

and not worry about the robbery and cow or buffalo thieves and safety."

Meas Thoeun, 28, a merchant in Romeas Hek town, said he himself had nothing to fear

from the police: "Only the politicians are afraid of the presence of the Flying

Tigers."

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