Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - AusAID unshackles KR leg-irons

AusAID unshackles KR leg-irons

AusAID unshackles KR leg-irons

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UNCHAINED

Prisoners get released after use of leg irons was exposed.

BRUTAL conditions at Kampong Cham prison, including the

use of Khmer Rouge-era leg irons, have been changed

following the recent intervention of Australian aid

workers.

A source close to the project said however that the

intervention has upset some members of the Australian

Embassy who were concerned their stand may offend the

Cambodian government.

The advisors were working under an $8 million AusAID

funded criminal justice project.

According to human rights sources, the aid workers were

outraged by the conditions and notified human rights

groups, as well as putting pressure on prison authorities

to improve conditions.

The conditions came to light through the project's

involvement with the prison system.

They found prisoners shackled together

shoulder-to-shoulder with the infamous leg irons as a

punishment. Some of the prisoners had tried to insert

rags between their ankles and the shackles to stop their

flesh from being rubbed raw.

They also found overcrowding, unhygenic conditions and

prisoners being locked in the cells 21 hours out of 24.

Australian Embassy first secretary Bill Costello

confirmed in a letter to the Post that following an

escape, an adviser from the project had "provided

advice to the prison chief about internationally accepted

standards for the treatment of prisoners" but he

denied they had notified any human rights group.

He added that the adviser "expressed his concern at

the situation" rather than being outraged.

However, a human rights group and people close to the

project said that a member of AusAID did raise the issue

with a rights group.

Costello also denied the embassy was unhappy with the

actions of the project adviser in taking up the issue of

prison conditions saying "the actions were entirely

consistent with the objectives of the project." He

also added that the Embassy was not aware of

"specifics" of the Kampong Cham case but had

supported increased efforts by the project to help sort

out problems at the prison.

The prison was the site of a breakout three weeks ago by

20 prisoners out of the 32 in the cell.

The prisoners managed to break through the concrete base

of their cell and then tunnel downwards. Initially they

dug with hands and spoons but in the soil they found a

shovel that presumably had been there since the prison

was constructed.

This speeded up their progress considerably, and within a

few hours 20 managed to break out into the open, and 12

of them escaped over the wall. The 21st prisoner emerged

into the open at the same time as the sleeping guards

woke up and he was detained immediately.

All the prisoners were recaptured except one, Min Moan,

who was shot and fatally wounded.

He was shot in the buttocks and the bullet came out his

chest, prompting speculation that the man had been

summarily executed while kneeling down on the ground.

A UN worker who went to the prison when he heard about

the escape was angry that staff at Kampong Cham hospital

ignored Moan's dying pleas for treatment.

He said UN right workers tried to convince doctors to

save Moan's life but they refused saying that the UN was

trying to help criminals.

He said the doctors then claimed that the hospital did

not have any medicines for Moan and they would only treat

him if he paid them.

The UN workers then said that they would pay the costs

but the doctors said it was too late to start treatment.

Moan had been in prison since March when he was charged

with crimes relating to illegal weapons.

Interior ministry director general of the department of

general administration, Prum Sokha said that he was aware

of the problems at the prison and had sent instructions

numerous times for them to change the way they dealt with

the prisoners.

But he said the problem was that there was no distinct

prison service like in other countries. He said the

prison were the responsibility of the prisons department

of the Interior ministry but the staff were police

officers and did not answer directly to the department.

The head of Kampong Cham prison, Chea Sreang, also

admitted there had been problems but he said they were

caused by the lack of funding and because the buildings

were so old.

UN human rights workers showed photos of people in the

shackles that they say were taken just three weeks ago.

But Sreang said they had stopped using the KR shackles in

1993. "I would like to clarify that we used the

chains because we did not have a high fence and it was

broken," he said.

Sreang also defended conditions at the prison saying:

"The prisoners get out 3 hours a day to see the sun

and play volleyball to take care of their health."

Sreang said it was difficult to get good staff to work in

the prison because the pay was so poor $10 a month and

even that was often delayed three to four months.

And he said the working conditions in prisons were much

worse than for regular police.

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