H UMAN rights organizations in Cambodia and abroad have been closely monitoring
what they say is a clear case of local police and military officers brazenly
murdering two civilians in Battambang province.
The incident is being
seen as a clear test of whether the government has the political will to arrest
officials involved in gross human rights violations.
On the afternoon of
Feb 5, farmer Neth Thong, 28, and Mov Ving, 28, a Funcinpec militiaman, were
playing volleyball in Mong Russei district when approximately 30 government
soldiers, police, and militia surrounded them at gun point, took them into
custody, and later executed them at point blank range, according to numerous
witnesses and family members.
The Cambodian human rights organizations
LICAHDO and ADHOC have been instrumental in collecting information on the
Gunshots were heard less than an hour after the arrest. The bodies
were found the next morning in a nearby field. They had been handcuffed, and
shot in the head and elsewhere with assault rifles. Evidence indicated they were
also severely beaten.
Both victims were Funcinpec party members,
according to family members.
Numerous witnesses were present at the
arrest which was carried out without a warrant. Witnesses said the soldiers and
police were led by Chhoun Ka'th, a militia chief in nearby Mong Kal
Also present at the arrest were Khan, the district military
chief; Vy, the Mong commune military chief; the district police chief and
Human rights officials say it is a clear test of whether
Cambodia's judiciary - designed to be independent under the terms of the
constitution and the Paris Agreements - is able to take action against other
government officials who have political power but are involved in
The Ministries of Interior, Defence and Justice were all
officially informed in February of the details of the case by human rights
organizations, as were the military court in Phnom Penh, the Battambang
provincial court, the chief of military police in Battambang and the chief of
the civilian police in the province.
The United Nations Center of Human
Rights is also investigating. To date, no action has been taken to arrest the
suspects or interview the witnesses. A government prosecutor has, however, asked
local human rights organiztions not to publicize their findings.
courts, through local prosecutors, and the Justice Ministry are responsible to
take action in such cases. But, says one foreign Human Rights lawyer here: "The
problem is there is a sense of impunity among the military so there is no
authority willing to take action against members of the police or military who
commit serious abuses."
When family members attempted to intervene, one
of the armed men said: "If you ask for their release, I will kill you too,"
according to one witness interviewed by rights workers.
At the funeral
of the victims, local authorities interrogated the family members and asked
them: "Why are you having a funeral for the Khmer Rouge?" according to human
Despite what investigators say is overwhelming evidence,
no arrests have been made. Numerous witnesses and family members of the victims
have been intimidated and threatened with death, human rights investigators say.
Several witnesses have fled their homes and some are now living in an area
The police report on the killings was allegedly written by Chhoun
Ka'th, the head of the Mong Kal commune militia who is alleged to be the leader
of the gang of armed government officials who arrested and executed the
On Feb 20 Amnesty International released an Urgent Action, one of
their highest forms of international appeal.
"Relatives of two men
recently killed by members of the Cambodian security forces are now in fear for
their own safety," the Amnesty appeal said. "Local authorities seem to be
unwilling to investigate these killings on the grounds that these men were
alleged to be members of the outlawed Partie of Democratic Kampuchea. A police
report on the incident alleges that Neth Thong and Mov Ving were PDK members,
but it is believed that the report was written by one of the 30 armed
The Amnesty report continued: "The villagers and relatives insist
that the men did not belong to the Khmer Rouge but were members of the legal,
Royalist FUNCINPEC party. Relatives believe that the two men may have been
killed for personal reasons, by people in positions of authority within the
province of Battambang who are using the political situation as a smoke screen
for illegal acts."
But villagers and other witnesses say the real reason
for the killings appear to be a personal dispute involving the commune militia
chief Chhoun Ka'th. In Jan 94, Chhoun Ka'th's brother, Chhoun Chherth, was
involved in a dispute in which he physically assaulted a man named Vannak.
Vannak was then said to join the Khmer Rouge. Chhoun Chherth was later abducted
and murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Chhoun Ka'th believed that the two victims were
involved in the killing of his brother and had threatened to murder them
previously, according to villagers.
Political manipulation of the the
"Khmer Rouge Outlaw Law", passed last July, continues to remain a major concern
among Cambodian opposition politicians and human rights organizations who say
the potential for abuse is immense.