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Foul play suspected in Kampong Thom 'jailbreak'

Foul play suspected in Kampong Thom 'jailbreak'

A human rights group fears for the safety of a missing Kampong Thom farmer and have

demanded an explanation from military police who said he escaped custody on January

12.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) has questioned whether the 39-year-old

Eip Thien really escaped, as he was handcuffed. He has not contacted his family in

more than two weeks.

"I am afraid that something might have happened," said Danilo Caspe, investigation

director for the CCHR. "We can't get clear information from the military police.

Where is he now? If he really escaped, then they can explain to us what are the circumstances

of his escape.

"The military police said he escaped, but for us, I don't think that would be

possible because he was handcuffed when he was arrested," he said.

Kampong Thom military police are standing by their reports that Thien escaped.

Citing concerns of police brutality and Thien's current whereabouts, local human

rights groups Licadho, Adhoc and Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association are

also investigating the case.

"We can't say if the victim is killed, or if the victim is detained, or if the

victim is alive," said Ham Sunrith, a Licadho prison monitoring officer. "We're

worried about the security of the victim," said Sunrith.

A report released by the three NGOs on January 25 details their version of events

leading to Thien's arrest.

The report states that Eip Thien, 39, and his two nephews, Vang Vat, 23, and Sak

Phoeun, 21, were stopped by forestry officials while transporting wood in a buffalo-drawn

cart on January 12.

Chey Sitha, Stung district forestry chief, grabbed the reins causing the surprised

buffalo to injure Sitha's left eye with its horns.

Thien and his nephews traveled home, and Sitha called the military police and asked

them to intervene.

Five minutes later, four armed military police came to Thien's house. Thien was beaten

by police, handcuffed and taken to the Stung district military police headquarters.

His wife and eldest daughter were also beaten by police as they attempted to help

Thien.

Thien's wife, Eip Nath, 33, went to the military police headquarters to find her

husband, but she wasn't permitted past the gates. The military police told her that

her husband had escaped from custody.

On January 13, military police and a Kampong Thom court official seized the cart

and the wood from Nath. The court official questioned Thien's two nephews, arrested

them, and detained them for two nights at Kampong Thom's provincial court.

The court later released the nephews without charge, and ordered Kul Chhoeun, Stung

district military police chief, to take them back to their commune. Chhoeun demanded

the nephews pay him $100 each to take them home.

On January 15, Thou Lik, deputy governor of Stung district, returned to the family

the $200 taken by Chhoeun. He gave them $300 to cover the cost of the wood and said

he would return the cart. He also asked the family not to complain to the courts.

Chhoeun disputed that Sitha's injuries were caused by the buffalo and claimed instead

that Thien attacked Sitha.

Chhoeun denied officers used excessive force when arresting Thien. At this point

in the interview, Chhoeun said he was out of cell phone coverage and the phone went

dead. Repeated calls went unanswered.

Sitha also said that his injuries were not caused by the buffalo. He said Thien attacked

him with a stick, so he has filed a complaint to the court.

"I am very upset that the police arrested the offender and let the offender

escape," said Sitha.

Hing Ain, second deputy chief of Kampong Chen Cheung commune, said Thien's wife was

very concerned about her husband. Ain visited her yesterday. She still had no idea

of her husband's whereabouts.

"It's difficult to find," said Caspe, "but we'll try our best to get

some more information so we can confirm what really happened to the victim."

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