KAMPONG CHAM - When former police officer Hang Saron was arrested by his old colleagues
on June 25 he had good reason to fear for his life.
His home district of Tbaung Khmum has a gruesome history of political violence -
human rights workers say it's the worst in the country - and Saron, a Funcinpec
supporter, thought he was going to be the district's next victim.
But Saron, 41, still in the custody of Kampong Cham provincial police, was one of
the lucky ones. He said he was threatened with torture and forced to falsely confess
that he was trying to disrupt the election campaign - but he wasn't killed.
"They said they would kill me and they told me to escape from the car [but]
I was not stupid enough to run," said Saron, who was arrested without a warrant
by police on June 25, one day after attending a massive Funcinpec rally led by Prince
"They forced me to say that another man and I were trying to disrupt the electoral
process. I told them what they wanted me to say, to save my life," Saron told
"I said I was working for the Funcinpec office chief. I gave them my thumbprint
[signature] to save my life."
Human rights investigators said Saron was targeted because he is in charge of security
at a Funcinpec party office whose signboard had been shot just days before.
When rights investigators first inquired about Saron's arrest, police denied he was
in custody. The rights workers said they feared the worst, because police in Tbaung
Khmum are notorious for abuse and the district's legacy, especially during elections,
has been well documented.
In the most recent case, the tortured body of Sam Rainsy Party activist Em Eam, 62,
was discovered in a shallow grave in the district's rubber plantation on June 17,
seven days after he went missing. Party officials say his neck and nose were broken.
"This is a perfect example of a political case," a rights worker said.
Justice police chief Seng Sok Kim said the police investigation is "30% complete
[but] we cannot say if it is political until we finish the investigation and arrest
Human rights investigators found that Em Eam and others had been threatened by the
chiefs of both the commune police and the local village before the killing.
"Since the killing, more than one other member of the same village has again
been threatened," a rights investigator said, noting that several had fled.
Em Eam's wife told the Post at a June 21 Sam Rainsy Party rally in Phnom Penh that
she was too afraid to return home.
Surrounded by fertile fields and beautiful rubber trees, just across the water from
the provincial capital, Tbaung Khmum has a long history of murders, vendetta hits
and politically motivated executions.
It is "the worst district" in a province famous for human rights violations,
according to one rights investigator who complained he had recently been harassed
by local authorities.
Another rights investigator said a man came into his Tbaung Khmum guest house room
last year with an AK-47 in hand, pointed it at his chest and searched the room.
The grim human rights climate of the area has long been on record. US academic Judy
Ledgerwood highlighted the district in an essay on patterns of CPP political repression
and violence during the 1993 UNTAC period.
The essay opens with the discovery of the decomposing and tortured body of businessman
and district accountant Hou Leang Ban, whose only crimes appear to have been that
he thought "too much" and that he was a Funcinpec supporter.
"In the week that Hou Leang Ban was missing, his wife had gone out on three
other occasions to view bodies of persons found murdered in the rubber plantation
in Tbaung Khmum district. None of those bodies had been her husband's, but none was
ever identified, nor were the deaths ever explained," Ledgerwood wrote.
"Hou Leang Ban's death was part of a pattern," she wrote, citing extensive
interviews with opposition parties and State of Cambodia government documents detailing
plans to discredit the political opposition.
Such patterns were no secret to Hang Saron, who walked out of his job as a policeman
on the CPP-dominated force following the fighting last July in which Prince Ranariddh
Recounting his June 25 arrest, Saron said he was pursued by two soldiers who tried
to run him off the road before cornering him with their guns drawn. They took him
into the forest and searched him, finding a grenade and a handful of bullet shells.
He was taken to a military base where authorities cuffed his legs and brought in
"They said: 'I will beat you without leaving any marks so it will be useless
for you to complain to human rights workers'," Saron recounted.
Rights workers, meanwhile, were urgently pressuring provincial police to acknowledge
Saron was being held. After a flurry of calls, visits and a meeting with top provincial
police officials, police finally admitted they had arrested Saron.
However they insisted the case was "criminal" because Saron was found in
possession of a weapon without a permit.
"Hang Saron was transferred to me... because he had a grenade and bullet shells,"
said deputy police commissioner Hen Yok Lim.
Saron said he was carrying the grenade because on June 21 unknown soldiers opened
fire on a sign over the Funcinpec office, which he guards.
Police said Saron would also be tried immediately - just as in the case last month
of Sam Rainsy Party member Lim Pheng who was arrested, tried and sentenced to one
year in prison for possession of a gun. Pheng later said he had been tricked into
standing trial without a lawyer.
But although police have since transferred Saron's case to the court, at Post press
time, provincial justice police said he had not yet been tried.
Earlier, standing in the provincial police office the visibly shaken father of four
said he was just happy to be out of the hands of Tbaung Khmum authorities.
Saron said quietly: "I didn't think my life could be saved until I was brought