Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kidnap arrests raise HR alarm bells

Kidnap arrests raise HR alarm bells

Kidnap arrests raise HR alarm bells

AT least ten Cambodians have now been arrested on kidnapping and extortion charges,

since the Ministry of Interior's National Police Department's kidnapping investigation

committee was set up on July 18.

The Interior Ministry's Information Department chief, General Sok Phal said the five

Interior Generals who make up the investigation committee had been pulled together

because of an increase in kidnappings since the July 5-6 clash in the capital.

"Criminal activity like this causes people to lose their hope so the government

must control this problem in order to assure the security for the people," Sok

Phal said.

But the timing of the arrests has raised alarm among human rights organizations,

and legal sources said they fear that in Cambodia's current politically charged environment,

"kid-nappings" could be used as cover for political arrests.

Hun Sen warned Aug 2 that observers should not be surprised if arrest warrants were

issued for those who were involved in kidnappings and that military generals, even

if they were CPP, would not be excluded.

A Funcinpec-aligned private businessman and military intelligence officer is one

if those now being detained in the dilapidated Tuol Sleng Military Prison in Phnom

Penh on kidnapping and extortion charges.

Arrested July 31 near Psar Thmei, Lt Col Hor Sim Leang is a Cambodian-Australian

from Melbourne now serving in Cambodia's Military Intelligence Agency.

That agency's deputy General Chao Sambath's house came under heavy attack during

July 5-6 fighting in the capital and government officials now say the General was

killed shortly afterwards.

Sim Leang was arrested in a jewelry shop along with three colleagues by 30 heavily-

armed soldiers which included a bodyguard unit of the Second Prime Minister, one

of Sim Leang's colleagues reported.

"The circumstances of his arrest are strange ... he was taken initially to Tuol

Krasaing, to the base of Bureau Two bodyguards of the Second Prime Minister,"

said a human rights worker investigating the case.

"The three men arrested with him were released, but he was taken to the Tuol

Sleng military prison," he said.

Sim Leang fled to Australia in 1980 from a refugee camp on the Thai border and returned

to Cambodia in 1991.

In Phnom Penh, he worked in private business, which included real estate and forestry,

where he had reportedly cultivated good relations with officials of the Cambodian

People's Party.

The Green Hotel, owned by Sim Leang in central Phnom Penh, had up until his arrest

been used as a "safe house" for royalist Funcinpec officials who had feared

for their safety following the violence in early July.

Within hours of Leang's arrest, between 15-20 Funcinpec officials evacuated the hotel.

By Friday, soldiers aligned with Hun Sen led a swoop and search of the hotel.

Consul to the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh, Peter Grant, waited for over a week

before getting permission to visit Sim Leang at the military prison despite "intervention

from the embassy at the highest levels."

"We were notified of his arrest Thursday evening, he is being held in a military

prison because he holds a position within the Cambodian military," Grant said.

"In the present climate any arrests and detentions are a cause for concern,

but until we have more information on what basis he is being held we cannot say there

are political overtones," Grant said.

Sim Leang's 26- year-old wife, Chan Vy, who has been able to visit her husband along

with a doctor, said he had told her the police had accused him of involvement in

a kidnapping on June 23, but that he had informed them he had no involvement.

Chann Sovann, a registrar at the Phnom Penh military prosecutor's court said Sim

Leang had been "charged with kidnapping, extortion and the possession of illegal

weapons".

An unnamed source said Sim Leang had told him he believed he had been taken to the

Second Prime Minister's bodyguard base at Takhmao to be executed, but that a phone

call from an unidentified person had intervened.

"He doesn't know why he's being held, he's concerned for his safety and that

of his family, he didn't feel like he could talk," said the Australian consul,

who said military prosecutors were present during the interview.

Also rounded up on apparently related charges was a Dunhill Cigarette distributor,

known as Hak Srun, who was arrested Aug 9, along with four or five other men, including

another Cambodian Australian, a former NGO worker who was later released.

Srun is now reportedly also in Tuol Sleng Prison, along with a Khmer Frenchman and

another five Funcinpec military officials who have also been charged with kidnapping,

military sources said.

The July 21-22 edition of Rasmey Kampuchea said another two alleged kidnappers, who

reportedly had been holding a 12- year-old businessman's daughter hostage, had been

shot and killed trying to escape.

Legal sources said a third man, Mung Rethy, who was arrested with them died on his

way to the prison after his court appearance.

"His shirt reportedly got caught on the door of the car as he tried to escape,

his head scraped along the ground and then he was shot," a legal source said.

"Anything can now be a pretext for a political arrest and the timing for the

formation of this kidnapping committee is strange," said one human rights worker.

The Interior Ministry kidnapping investigation committee members are: General Sok

Phal, General Neth Savoeurn, the commander of military police, General Thong Lim,

Gen Heng Hak, Chief of the Anti-Terrorist police, and General Ouk Kim Lek.

Thong Lim was suspended in late July, along with two other Interior Ministry officials,

over the execution of Interior Secretary of State Ho Sok July 7.

The Second Prime Minister claimed Aug 4 that there are "no longer any political

prisoners or prisoners of war" being held in Cambodian jails and urged Prince

Ranariddh aligned officials who had gone into hiding after the July 5-6 fighting

to return.

"The situation of human rights in Cambodia is very good. I have made an appeal

which will allow the Red Cross and human rights organizations open access to wherever

they want to go," Hun Sen told reporters.

But the Prime Minister also claims human rights groups are fueling a climate of fear

in Cambodia by reporting executions, arrests and harassment "without evidence".

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