SEVERAL hundred villagers have complained about plundering of property, and the rape
of at least one woman, during military clashes in Battambang last month.
Human rights workers are still investigating but have so far discovered two incidents
of alleged mass plundering by Funcinpec-allied soldiers in the aftermath of battles
with Cambodian People's Party (CPP) loyalists.
The United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, is
expected to visit Battambang next week to be updated on human rights abuses there
during the fighting.
According to information prepared by a number of human rights groups, about 200 soldiers
looted from villagers' homes around an agricultural center at Neth Ba, off Route
5, on Feb 14.
The soldiers were Funcinpec soldiers from Siem Reap and Battambang divisions and
a group of Khmer Rouge defectors from neighboring Banteay Meanchey province, according
to a joint report prepared by NGOs. Other sources say the so-called Blue Khmer, former
KPNLAF soldiers from Banteay Meanchey who wore blue bandanas, were involved.
The troops were on the way to Phnom Thippedey in Battambang's southern Moung Russei
district when they clashed with CPP forces near Doeung Prieng commune.
Further clashes lasting nearly 24 hours occurred at Neth Ba, where there is a Royal
army base which was occupied by about 60 CPP troops.
Some 200 complaints had since been made by villagers living in the area, most of
whom fled during the battle. All of the complaints were about the theft of property,
except one which was about an alleged rape, said one human rights worker who did
not want to be named.
Another set of complaints about pillaging had been made by villagers who fled from
nearby Nikun, in Chroy Sdau commune, during skirmishes there. The fighting involved
the same group of Funcinpec troops, and a group of CPP militiamen.
The human rights worker said few reports had come from Phnom Thippedey - scene of
some of the hottest fighting - and investigators would visit there next week.
Unofficial reports from Battambang put the death toll in clashes there mid-February
at around 20, though some observers suggest it could be considerably higher.
The situation calmed - except for the murder of a Funcinpec commune election candidate
which the party feared was politically-motivated - after the province's four top
officials were recalled to Phnom Penh Feb 17.
A lengthy meeting of the Prime Ministers and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces top brass
was held in Phnom Penh Feb 26 to discuss Battambang. The meeting culminated in the
PMs issuing a written order banning Royal army forces from any unauthorised movements,
un-authorised possession of weapons, and illegal recruit of new fighters.
But at Post press time, the futures of recalled Battambang Governor Ung Samy (CPP)
and Deputy Governor Serey Kosal (Funcinpec), and the parties' respective military
chiefs in the province, had not been decided.