Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hill tribe slaughter premeditated

Hill tribe slaughter premeditated

Hill tribe slaughter premeditated

THE MASSACRE of 13 Jarai hill tribes people in Ratanakkiri last month was a

targeted attack and not random banditry according to human rights workers,

Ratanakkiri provincial government officials and victims' relatives.

A

human rights worker familiar with the case, but who requested anonymity for

reasons of personal safety, rejected as "ludicrous" government and media

explanations of the July 6-7 blood bath that claimed the lives of 13 Jarai and

one Vietnamese as the work of bandits.

"The media would have us believe

that [a] group of experienced former Khmer Rouge jungle fighters, who'd spent

years wandering around the forests of Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri, inexplicably

got lost looking for Route 19 and then murdered 13 Jarai because they were upset

they couldn't speak Khmer," the worker told the Post .

"It just doesn't

add up ... Anyone who spends any length of time in that area knows that Route 19

is due north of that area ... you can't miss it.

"The suggestion that

these guys were 'lost' and weren't familiar with the Jarai language is

absurd."

The rights worker also said that there was doubt about the

reliability of some of the witnesses' accounts on which initial media reports

were based.

In the Jarai village of Lum in O Yaw Daw District of

Ratanakkiri, whose residents were six of the massacre's 14 victims, friends and

relatives of the dead expressed similar skepticism about the role ethnicity

played in the choice of victims.

"Where did these 'bandits' come from?"

asked an angry Pou Plum, Head of the Lum Village Development

Committee.

"I want to know why [the killers] released Khmer and Lao

[hostages] and only killed Yuon (Vietnamese) and Jarai."

Ratanakkiri

First Deputy Governor Van Chhornly thinks he has the answer.

"The Khmer

begged for their lives and used deceptive, conciliatory gestures to placate the

killers," Chhornly explained.

"The Jarai are very straight, honest and

truthful people, whose simple responses made the bandits very angry, so they

killed the Jarai."

The suggestion that the killers were ex-Khmer Rouge

jungle fighters is greeted with hoots of derision at a gathering of relatives of

Lum's victims attended by the Post on Aug 10.

"If they were ex-KR, why

were they all wearing police and military uniforms?" asks Lum Village Chief

Rosmas Chves. "Why were they carrying ICOMs [two-way radios]?"

Indeed,

the official version of the killers' identities has already shifted from that

touted in the immediate aftermath of the massacre.

"According to my

information, [the killers] were bodyguards of a logging concession in Kratie

Province," said Ratanakkiri Second Deputy Provincial Governor Bun Hom Oun Many.

Chhornly, however, strenuously denied that the killers were part of a

single, organized group.

"The killers included forest concession security

guards as well as former police and RCAF," Chhornly said.

"They all just

came together to form this group of bandits."

Oun Many also told the Post

that the death toll of the suspected killers had risen from one (a suspect

beaten to death by enraged relatives of the victims in the Jarai village of Tien

on July 8) to nine.

"They were all killed in shoot-outs with police and

military on the border of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri," Oun Many said, confirming

that two ICOM sets had been recovered from the eight dead suspects.

"Only

two other bandits are still at large, but we have them surrounded."

The

lack of living suspects linked to the crime increases the suspicion of the human

rights worker.

"It's very opportune, isn't it?" the worker said of the

deaths of the suspected killers.

"Dead men tell no tales, and the

authorities seem intent on ensuring these [murder suspects] don't stay

alive."

The depth of concern and skepticism regarding the official

explanation of the circumstances behind the murder of the Jarai is reflected in

the reaction of the Cambodia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for

Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Phnom Penh.

UNHCHR's Special Representative to

Cambodia has written a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen expressing his

"condolences and concerns" about the killings.

Meanwhile UNHCHR Director

Rosemary MacCreary has stated that there is "an ongoing investigation" into the

killings.

However staff working on the investigation would not comment

what that investigation had yielded

Back in Lum, villagers remark on what

they refer to as the "peculiar timing" of the massacre.

"Only one month

before, the [seven member] village militia was disbanded and had its guns taken

away," said Plum of the government's new gun confiscation policy.

"[The

killers] must have known we didn't have any guns to protect ourselves .... If

we'd had guns they would have killed some of us, but we would have killed some

of them to make it even."

Lum villagers also castigate government

officials for what they perceive as a lack of enthusiasm in apprehending the

killers.

"One day after the murders two of the killers were spotted

nearby [Lum], but when we asked the military to come and arrest them they never

showed up," Chves said.

"The military has to come and look for the

killers if they want to find them, but so far they haven't done that."

As

a result, the Jarai villagers of Lum are terrified that their village may once

again, at any time, be the subject of a "random" attack by armed

killers.

"We want the [Ratanakkiri] provincial authorities to provide a

detachment of ten military or police to guard our village," Chves

said.

"Either that or they should reactivate the village militia and give

us back our guns."

Although Oun Many insisted that the provincial

government had in fact "temporarily reactivated" the Lum militia and handed back

their weapons, the people of Lum denied that any such action had

occurred.

"We heard on the radio that the village militia should prepare

to be activated, but that's all," Plum said. "There's been no mention of us

getting our guns back."

The steady stream of strangers who traverse the

narrow track that passes from Route 19 down through Lum to a Vietnamese border

post has also been a source of concern for villagers.

"We want the

provincial authorities to close this road to through traffic ... We can't

distinguish who the good people and who the evil people might be [who use the

road]," Plum explained.

"If the [provincial] authorities don't agree to

do this, we'll block the road ourselves."

The pervasive fear present in

the people of Lum has also taken a serious toll on the village's future food

security.

"Many people have been too afraid to leave their homes and go

to tend their fields since this has happened," Plum said.

"Wild pigs and

cows have invaded the fields and eaten the crops ... Rice seedlings have

withered or been destroyed because people haven't been tending

them."

Chves warns that if provincial authorities don't respond favorably

to their concerns, the village will consider abandoning their lives in Cambodia

altogether.

"We can't survive here if we don't get assistance and

protection from the [provincial] authorities," Chves said. "If we don't get the

assistance we need, we'll go to Vietnam, where life is safer."

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