Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Canadian's killing during coup receives little attention

Canadian's killing during coup receives little attention

Canadian's killing during coup receives little attention

michael.gif
michael.gif

MICHAEL SENIOR

ONE YEAR after a Canadian citizen was executed by RCAF soldiers, the murderers remain

free and Canada - despite complaining that it is not satisfied with the investigation

- continues to give millions of dollars to an election critics say is rigged

in favor of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Critics say it should be easy to find out who shot 23-year-old Michael Senior at

point-blank range on July 7, 1997, as soldiers looted property in the aftermath of

the violent ouster of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

"It should be an open and shut case," said a human rights worker familiar

with the circumstances of Senior's death, noting it occurred in broad daylight, in

the middle of Phnom Penh when fighting had finished and soldiers were deployed in

an organized way.

"They should have no problem determining which soldiers were where that day...

there is no doubt internally it is known who did it."

Senior's murder - carried out in front of his wife - was documented as

a "confirmed execution" in an August 1997 United Nations human rights report.

One year later, the government has not seriously investigated Senior's slaying -

or any of the other 80-plus cases documented by the UN.

"He did nothing wrong, they just killed him," Senior's Cambodian-born wife

told the Post in a telephone interview from Canada, where she moved with the couple's

infant daughter four days after the murder.

"I am still mad at the government... It is Hun Sen's soldiers who killed him,"

she said, asking that her Khmer name not be used for fear of reprisals against her

family still in Cambodia.

Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir said he has requested action on the case from

all the relevant government officials, including Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng and

the two prime ministers.

"We write letters and go and talk to people, say we'd like to see some action,"

Longmuir said. "I've raised it with everyone - with little success, unfortunately."

The Friends of Cambodia, an international group which includes Canada, admitted "continuing

deep concern at recent and past extrajudicial killings and the issue of impunity,

and their potential impact on the political climate for the elections".

However, they also "looked forward to seeing the elections take place"

as scheduled, according to a statement after their June 20 meeting in Bangkok.

Canada has been consistently bullish on elections, taking up the funding of an electoral

adviser when the US suspended aid last July, and giving close to 2 million Canadian

dollars (about US$1.36 million) in election aid. This amount is roughly equal to

Canada's annual economic assistance to Cambodia.

Asked if Canada is sending mixed signals by providing election aid without seeing

any action on the Senior case, Longmuir said: "I don't think so... you have

to sort of almost treat that [investigation] as a separate issue. This won't be the

last election Cambodia will have... we've done a great deal to develop the legal

framework."

Senior's widow said she was unhappy about Canada's election assistance.

But Longmuir said: "You don't hang your whole bilateral relationship on a case

of this kind." Canada believes "it's better to get engaged... than to stand

aside and thus guarantee that elections will not be free, fair and credible".

However, human rights and election watchdog groups are claiming that past and continuing

executions, voter intimidation and Hun Sen's control over the election mechanisms

ensure July 26 polls cannot be fair. Additionally, UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg

has been calling since last August for a government investigation into the killings.

Longmuir said he shared the UN's concerns. "I take every opportunity whenever

I have high-level meetings to bring [Senior's case] up in the context of the human

rights issue."

"But every time, it's as if they've never heard of it before," the ambassador

lamented. "There's no evidence of a serious investigation or arrests or questioning."

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien even brought Senior's case up with First Prime

Minister Ung Huot at a Francophone nations' meeting last November, Longmuir said.

Longmuir insists the embassy is doing its best, but he noted the government might

not be receptive to such pressure now, suggesting the best strategy is to "wait

till after elections, then push".

Michael Senior came to Phnom Penh in early 1995 from the Vancouver suburbs. He wanted

to help develop Cambodia and also to try to find his roots.

Born in Cambodia - he also used his Khmer name, Sokhun - he was adopted as a baby

and raised by a Canadian family.

He studied Khmer and Buddhism, worked as a TV newsreader and taught English at the

Australian Center for Education Cambodia (ACE).

"[He] was well-liked by both his colleagues and his students," said ACE

director Paul Mahony in a statement. "They saw him as a model of a well-educated

Cambodian who was helping his people."

After the fighting of July 5-6, 1997, Senior - an aspiring journalist - grabbed a

camera and went with his wife to watch the soldiers looting the city.

The UN's report reads: "He was executed on Monday July 7, at about 4pm while

taking pictures of government soldiers looting houses near O Russei market. He was

first shot in the leg by a soldier who took his camera. Another soldier finished

him off with three bullets."

A new government-run human rights commission was set up on June 8. Member Svay Sitha

said he was not familiar with Senior's case and could not give a time frame for its

investigation.

"I don't think too much good will be coming out of it," one diplomat said.

"This committee will be drawing on the same resources that were supposed to

be working on it so far... All they've done is just repackaged the process."

Mrs Senior holds out little hope for the investigation. "I just feel very sad,"

she said. "I still feel I miss him... I will never forgive those who killed

my husband."

She is now enrolled in English classes and looks after her daughter, who was 5 months

old when her father was killed.

Mrs Senior said that she was grateful for Canadian help in getting her out of Cambodia.

But she cannot forget what she witnessed.

"Every night [when] I sleep, I still see the situation in my eyes, I still see

it real," she said. "To see your husband, your partner, your best friend

killed before your eyes - it's very terrible."

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