RUMORS and speculation are flying, but all that can be said for certain is that
the gun battles in Phnom Penh on November 24 left up to eight people dead, a
dozen wounded, and have resulted in hundreds of arrests and detentions across
Chiep Kim Luch, 28, cradles her month-old son, Men Mai Sambo Rethysak, beneath the hole made by a bullet that pierced their house and killed her husband, schoolteacher Men Sambo (in the portrait), during the November 24 fighting
The Government has attributed the attacks on ministries and a
military barracks to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) - an alleged terrorist
group said to be led by Chhun Yasith, a Cambodian-American from
But many people - noting that the attackers seemed more
intent on making noise rather than achieving military objectives - are highly
skeptical of the Government's claim that it was a victim of an attempted coup.
Some observers believe the attacks were actually orchestrated by the CPP
to give the ruling party an excuse to suppress political
Human Rights Watch has called for heightened international
monitoring of the human rights situation in Cambodia in the wake of the gun
In a statement on December 6, Human Rights Watch said in the 12
days since the attack more than 200 people have been arrested - most without
warrants as required by Cambodian law.(See The Fighting, page 9)
Rights Watch has received reports of one suspect being tortured during
interrogation and at least eleven others kicked or beaten during arrest," said
Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of Human Rights
Watch's Asia division, condemned the November 24 incident but called on
Cambodian authorities to respect both Cambodian and international law in
investigating the matter.
"The Cambodian Government has a right to
address threats to its security in accordance with the law, but the danger here
is that the November 24 incident may become a pretext for the Government to move
against political opponents," he said.
Human rights workers are
particularly concerned about Hun Sen's creation on November 28 of a 19-member
Interministerial Antiterrorism Committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sar
Kheng and top level Government, police, and military officials.
committee has the power to suspend civil servants, as well as military and
police personnel found to be involved with terrorist activity.
It is also
charged with negotiating for the extradition of suspects from "any countries
where armed terrorists are settling" or "prosecute them in those countries in
accordance with their law".
Commission member Om Yen Tieng, who is also
the head of the Government's official human rights committee and an advisor to
Hun Sen, told the Post that the round-up of suspects since the November 24
incident was being done fairly and according to Cambodia law.
"No one has
been arrested by mistake: we released a number of suspects after they made
agreements and had been educated," he said.
Tieng did not specify what
form the "education" had taken.
"The aim of the antiterrorism committee
is not only to crack down on terrorists responsible for the November 24
fighting, but also to crack down on international terrorism inside Cambodia," he
said. "Journalists should let our committee work quietly on the
Kek Galabru, President of the human rights organization
Licadho, and a spokesperson for the Human Rights Action Committee, said the
Action Committee respects the Government's right to investigate and make arrests
- as long as legal procedures are followed.
Galabru said if the
Government abides by its own laws and procedures then it will avoid the problem
of certain authorities taking advantage of this situation to reap personal
revenge, or to extort money from people.
In a speech in Pursat on
December 5, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Cambodia's human rights workers that
they will be arrested if they hide terrorists from the
Galabru said human rights organizations are only concerned
about the laws being upheld. "I'm sorry the Prime Minister always suspects that
human rights workers protect criminals," she said. "And now he suspects that we
"No, we don't protect those who break the law. There
is a misunderstanding between [the Prime Minister] and us. We only want to see
the law implemented."
Chea Sophara, Governor of Phnom Penh Municipality,
dismissed as untrue Hun Sen's allegations that human rights workers were
Leang Mengho, President of the Cambodian
Organization for Free and Fair Elections, told the Post that Hun Sen's remarks
were unfair and inapproriate.
"Poor and illiterate people who have
problems seek out human rights NGOs when they need help," he said.
Rights Watch stressed it was not suggesting that anyone found guilty in a proper
judicial process of violence or other unlawful acts should be immune from
"However, it is troubling to see statements from Government
officials criticizing NGOs and others who have called for a measured and lawful
response by the Government to the attack," a Human Rights Watch spokesperson
Dr Lao Mong Hay, Executive Director of the Khmer Institute of
Democracy, believes the November 24 incident may be used by the Government as a
justification for a crackdown on Cambodia's political opposition
"I fear that [the incident] will be used for a witchhunt to
eliminate all those critical of the policies of our rulers," he said. "It would
not be the first time this has happened in the history of Cambodia. We have had
witchhunts in the past. It is easy to brand somebody as Khmer Rouge, Khmer Bleu,
or Khmer Serei.
"There are aspects of the battles which can lead one to
conclude that they were staged - but we are not yet sure by whom," said Mong
He is concerned that the creation of the antiterrorism committee
will allow the Government to bypass judicial procedures in an effort to find
supporters of the "CFF".
"Why not use existing mechanisms to address this
issue? I hope [the committee] will be as effective as the commission they set up
to inquire into the murder of our famous actress [Piseth Pelica - a woman whose
diaries linked her romantically to Prime Minister Hun Sen]... They didn't
produce anything," said Mong Hay.
"These are measures taken by dictators
around the world and I fear our jails will be full of members of the opposition
in the same way the jails of Italy were full of the opponents to
Mong Hay said people should not be detained and arrested
without court warrants.
"Donors and the international community should
get our rulers to explain to them clearly what has been happening and what the
Government intends to do. This would not be interference into Cambodian affairs,
but should be the concern of all donors."
A diplomatic source said his
embassy has not drawn a final conclusion about the cause of the November 24
attacks, but "it was generally known before the event that an attack had been
planned and the documentary and factual evidence that has come out in the last
two weeks make it clear that it was planned by CFF," he said.
said his embassy is satisfied by the Cambodian Government's interpretation of
events in light of the confession by the alleged field commander of the
attacking forces, Cambodian-American Richard Kiri Kim, and the CFF's admission
of responsibility when its members held a press conference in Washington
The diplomat dismissed fears voiced by some observers that the
November 24 attacks will be used to derail the Khmer Rouge trial
He acknowledged that there are signs of a split within the CPP,
but he did not see how a staged gun battle could be used as a pretext for
widening or closing that gap - adding that a political purge is unlikely as
members from all parties are being questioned and Funcinpec members are involved
in the investigations as well.