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SRP arrests: Vannak revisited?

SRP arrests: Vannak revisited?

THE SHAKY evidence and alleged procedural improprieties in the cases against Kang

Bun Heang and Mong Davuth have evoked an eerie shiver of deja vu among human rights

workers who compare the case with that of Srun Voung Vannak.

On February 14, 1997, Vannak, then Security Chief for the Khmer Nation Party (former

name of the Sam Rainsy Party), was arrested for the murder of Kov Samuth, brother-in-law

of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Samuth was shot dead outside a Phnom Penh restaurant on Nov.19, 1996.

Vannak initially confessed to the crime, telling police that at the bidding of Sam

Rainsy he had supplied Prum Mean Rith and Sos Kasem with $2000, a K-59 handgun and

a motorcycle to commit the murder.

However at his trial Vannak recanted his confession, testifying that he had confessed

in fear for his life after spending 17 days handcuffed, blindfolded, interrogated

and threatened at the hands of police.

In spite of an admission by the trial judge that the testimony of Rith and Kasem

against Vannak was "contradictory", on Sep 19, 1997 Vannak was sentenced

to 13 years' imprisonment for his role in Samuth's murder. Rith was sentenced to

10 years, while Kasem, the confessed assassin, got 15 years.

Within months, however, the Government's case against Vannak began to fall apart.

On March 20, 1998 Kasem recanted his confession, insisting that he had been ordered

to confess to the crime and implicate Vannak in return for the fee of $20 paid to

his family for each day he spent in prison.

A month later, Rith informed human rights organizations that he had been seized and

blindfolded by police and held in a hotel for two days where he was coached on a

story to implicate himself, Kasem and Vannak in Samuth's murder.

Rith claimed the purpose of the frame-up was to implicate Sam Rainsy in a serious

crime in order to discredit the Khmer Nation Party.

The combined testimony of Kasem and Rith led Vannak to be declared a "Prisoner

of Conscience" by Amnesty International in April 1998.

Vannak eventually received a Royal Pardon in late 1998 as part of a package of political

compromises that facilitated the political return of both Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom

Ranariddh following the July 1997 coup.

Human rights workers have compared the circumstances of the recent arrests of Bun

Heang and Davuth as having striking parallels to the Vannak case two years ago.

"When you look at the inconsistencies in these arrests , there do seem to be

some strong similarities to the Vannak case," a human rights worker told the

Post.

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