Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kampong Thom escapee found alive in Siem Reap

Kampong Thom escapee found alive in Siem Reap

Kampong Thom escapee found alive in Siem Reap

A Kampong Thom farmer missing from police custody since January has been found

hiding at a relative's house, relieving fears held by human rights groups that

foul play may have been involved in his disappearance.

Eip Thien, 39,

was recaptured on March 3 in Siem Reap province and sentenced on April 11 to 18

months imprisonment for illegally transporting timber and ordered to pay two

million riel ($500) to a forestry chief he allegedly assaulted.

"The

judgment from the court is fair for me. I accept it," said Chey Sitha, chief of

Forestry Administration in Stung district, Kampong Thom, who Thien allegedly hit

with a buffalo-herding stick.

Sitha said that if Thien's family asked

him for a pardon he would consider forgoing the two million riel

compensation.

Thien's family and several human rights monitors said the

sentence was unfair and were considering filing an appeal.

The ordeal

began on January 12 when two of Thien's nephews were stopped by forestry

officials as they transported two cubic meters of valuable beng timber in a

buffalo-drawn cart.

Thien, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, arrived on the

scene a few minutes later and an argument took place.

According to a

January 25 report compiled by three human rights groups, Chey Sitha, Stung

district forestry chief, grabbed the buffalo's reigns, causing the surprised

beast to strike him in the left eye with one of its horns.

Sitha,

however, said it was Thien who caused the injury by beating him with a stick

used for controlling the buffalo.

Thien continued home with his nephews,

but he was arrested an hour later when Sitha went to his house with four

military police.

He was beaten, handcuffed and taken to the district

military police headquarters, according to the report made by Licadho, Adhoc and

Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association in late January.

That

night, Thien asked to go to the toilet and escaped.

Human rights groups

were concerned for the man because they could not get information from the

military police and said it was unlikely a shackled suspect could escape so

easily.

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

alive... we're worried about the security of the victim," said Ham Sunrith, a

Licadho prison monitor, at the time.

Thien was found March 3 in a

neighboring province and quickly sentenced by judge Touch Sakhoeun of the

Kampong Thom court.

Thien's wife, Eip Nath, said the court did not provide a

lawyer for her husband, nor did it call any witnesses to testify.

"The

court decision is very unjust for my husband," Nath said.

Nath said she

has no hope of paying the fine because she still owes ACLEDA bank $3,000 plus

interest on a loan, but said if her husband was released from jail she would

sell their land and house to raise the cash.

Chan Soveth, monitor for

Adhoc, said the court did take into consideration the actions of the military

police, as they had hurt Thien and confiscated his buffalo carts.

Soveth

said he will visit Thien and ask him if he wants to file an appeal or accept the

decision.

He said the 18 months imprisonment is acceptable, but the fine

will seriously affect his family because they are very poor.

"We will

talk to him, and if he needs a lawyer we will provide for him. We are already

prepared," Saveth said.

Kul Chhoeun, military police commander of Stung

district, said he investigated Thien's case and knew he was alive and hiding

somewhere at a relative's house. He said Thien's wife did not cooperate with the

authorities.

Chhoeun said he had filed defamation charges against Nath

at the provincial court on March 27 over her allegation that police had killed

her husband.

"I asked 10 million riel [$2,500] for defaming me and other

military police," Chhoeun said.

Chhoeun said the deputy governor of Stung

district, Phou Lik, had asked Nath many times to bring Thien back to police, and

said they would reduce his punishment, but she did not follow their

suggestion.

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