THE resemblance is undeniable. Using the testimony of witnesses interviewed during
a government investigation of the March 30, 1997 grenade attack, US Federal Bureau
of Investigation sketch artist drew a likeness of Kong Samreth - alias "Brazil".
Brazil admitted he had twice been ordered to kill Sam Rainsy, according to a June
20 interview recently obtained by the Post. At the time, the suspect was hiding at
Tang Krasaing military base under the protection of Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay.
At two separate garment factory demonstrations led by Rainsy, Brazil failed to complete
his murderous objective. At one, he said he showed up too late, the opposition politician
having already left. At the other he claimed he had a change of heart and decided
to disrupt the hit by "attacking demonstrators and journalists which prevented
Sam Rainsy from coming out of his vehicle".
Brazil has the profile of an assassin. In 1990 he joined the notorious Battalion
246 of the State of Cambodia military police, officially charged with maintaining
security in Phnom Penh.
"They were responsible for carrying out the dirty work of the [communist] party;
killings, intimidation... whatever they were needed for," a human rights worker
said of Battalion 246.
A Funcinpec soldier who claimed to be an acquaintance of Brazil's commented that
his friend was a killer who "used to drink a lot" and lose control.
"When he drinks, Brazil becomes easily violent. If he gets angry, he can kill
someone easily," the source told interviewers. "If he is hired to carry
out a murder, he will kill easily. He has already been hired to kill."
Brazil reportedly killed a fellow Battalion 246 soldier, fled Phnom Penh in 1992
and later joined a Funcinpec army unit stationed in Pich Nil, Kampong Speu.
After contracting malaria, Brazil said he moved back to the capital to recover. At
an unspecified date, he joined the bodyguard ranks of the Sharaton Hotel, owned by
Meng Sreng, son of business tycoon Teng Boonma.
But despite his admission to being a hired killer with a dubious background, Brazil
denied any involvement in the grenade attack.
Claiming he spent the entire day of March 30 at work and had the alibi to prove it,
Brazil said he first heard of the attack over an ICOM radio shortly after it happened.
"We were put on alert on March 30, but the order came only after the attack,"
he said. "There were fears that there would be problems around the perimeter
of the hotel. Nothing specific was said in this regard, about what kind of trouble
Life resumed normally for Brazil until the FBI sketches were released. "It was
on June 2 or 3, when my name appeared in the newspapers, that I began to fear for
my security. The attitude of my commander was to ignore me," he said.
"[The people who previously hired me to kill] turned against me because I knew
so much and because they had assigned me to previous murder attempts which had failed.
They decided that I had become dangerous and that I should be eliminated. They began
to follow me."
Brazil went into hiding and drawing on his old contacts in the Funcinpec military,
soon wound up at Tang Krasaing. Sam Rainsy, quoting Nhek Bun Chhay during his own
investigations into the attempt on his life, said the Funcinpec general offered Brazil
protection in exchange for the truth about the grenade attack.
Rainsy said that he and Bun Chhay never believed Brazil's claims that he was innocent,
but did not confront the suspect. "He knew very small details of the attack,
but never confessed to his own involvement. Nhek Bun Chhay pretended to believe him
to keep him around."
The government investigation team, led by National Police General Teng Savong, also
strongly believes that Brazil threw grenades at Sam Rainsy's demonstration.
"We believe that the group of people who ordered Kong Samreth to kill Sam Rainsy
during the factory demonstrations was the same group that ordered Kong Samreth to
throw grenades at the demonstrators in front of the National Assembly on March 30,"
Teng Savong said.
The FBI sketches would appear to be the final proof of Brazil's involvement - if
witnesses could produce such a clear image of the suspect, he must have been at the
park adjacent to the National Assembly during the attack.
But two separate independent investigators cautioned that this may not necessarily
be the case. It is possible, they said, that Brazil was set up to take the fall for
the real attackers.
The conspiracy theory goes that any assassination attempt on a high-profile political
leader - such as Sam Rainsy, or perhaps US President John F. Kennedy - will create
an equally high-profile investigation. Therefore, it is determined in the early planning
stages of the hit that a patsy will be required.
A rights worker noted that in one independent investigation of the attack, 71 witnesses
were directly interviewed and not one of them described a suspect matching Brazil's
Teng Savong said that 11 witnesses were interviewed by the FBI-Cambodian investigation,
but only six provided useful information.
It was unclear how many witness testimonies were used to create the composite sketch
of Brazil, but the rights worker warned that it would be very easy for government
investigators, if they were acting improperly, to forward witnesses to the FBI that
had been told to describe Brazil.
In this case the startling resemblance to Brazil in the sketch, the only drawing
that produced a suspect, might support the theory that witnesses were shown Brazil's
photo before talking to the FBI.
One witness used for the sketches told the Post in a recent interview that he had
seen something after March 30 that allowed him to accurately describe suspects to
"I saw the three grenade throwers [on March 30], but not clearly. It was only
when I saw them afterwards that I knew them clearly," the witness said.
Sam Rainsy said he personally did not believe the patsy theory because the attackers
would not have been "Machiavellian" enough to set somebody up.
He noted that Brazil knew too much about the attack and that the attackers themselves
took too many risks during the attack to have been so clever.
"Personally I am very skeptical," he said. "Anything is possible,
The answers to many questions on the attack, Teng Savong pointed out, could be answered
if Brazil were found. The investigation team made formal requests through the co-Ministers
of Interior to Nhek Bun Chhay to hand over the suspect while he was at Tang Krasaing,
but they were rebuffed.
"At that time the reply from Nhek Bun Chhay was that Brazil had escaped [from
Tang Krasaing]," Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng said. "This information
upset us very much."
Sam Rainsy said that Bun Chhay refused the investigation team's requests to keep
Brazil safe until the FBI could do an independent interview, but then the July coup
occurred - Brazil, Nhek Bun Chhay and all the Funcinpec soldiers at Tang Krasaing
fled Phnom Penh and were separated.
"Nhek Bun Chhay said [to me in September] that he last saw Brazil heavily armed,
like Rambo, right before the fighting," Rainsy said. "Then they all fled
to save their individual lives."
A rights worker said he had received two separate reports that Brazil was killed
by enemy fire outside Tang Krasaing, but the information had not been confirmed.
Nhek Bun Chhay, contacted at Post press time, confirmed Rainsy's account that Brazil
fought alongside Funcinpec soldiers at Tang Krasaing, but said he had received information
that the suspect survived the coup.
"I saw him for the last time on July 6," he said. "I have heard that
he is now hiding somewhere in Cambodia."
Teng Savong said the investigation team had received no information of Brazil's demise.
He has heard stories that Brazil was with Nhek Bun Chhay at the time of the fighting,
and expressed his outrage that he had been apparently lied to by the Funcinpec general.
"Why did Bun Chhay let Kong Samreth flee?" he asked. "The information
that Kong Samreth was killed is part of this secret affair of Bun Chhay's. We do
not have any evidence that Kong Samreth was killed during the fighting of July 5-6.
We have been informed that he fled to the border."
Rainsy said he had not heard any rumors of Brazil's death, but was convinced that
he was not living among Bun Chhay's resistance army in the north. "Brazil is
definitely not in Thailand. I believe Nhek Bun Chhay," he said.