"NOBODY forced me in here," said traffic policeman Khuon Sophy of his alleged
'detention' in the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) headquarters as heavily armed police
surrounded the building on Jan 29.
Within an hour, however, Sophy - under the eye of senior police commanders - was
maintaining: "They forcibly brought me here."
The about-face in the stories of KNP's two alleged police "hostages" was
evident for all to see during a three-hour siege of the party's Phnom Penh premises.
The scene was played out in front of some 100 party workers, human rights officials
and journalists, ironically forced to be witnesses by the refusal of the police outside
to let them leave.
Up to 80 police - toting everything from video cameras to rocket launchers - surrounded
the building. They obtained a warrant to search it on the grounds that the two officers
inside had been forced there at gunpoint.
The police left after three hours, with their two colleagues, one AK47 gun - licensed
to a bodyguard of party founder Sam Rainsy - and a walkie-talkie radio. No criminal
charges have been laid in relation to the incident.
The drama unfolded after police stationed on St. 214 near the KNP offices stopped
an allegedly stolen car being driven by the party's deputy treasurer, Kuoy Bunroeun.
The KNP official, who said he borrowed the car and did not know it had earlier been
stolen, said he was asked to produce his registration by Khuon Sophy, the traffic
policeman, and military police officer Chhuon Chhat.
At the same time, three armed men on a motorcycle - understood to be Ministry of
Interior officers - arrived at the scene.
"When I got out of the car to produce my driving license to the police, the
three men in civilian clothes held me at gunpoint and pushed me back into the car,"
He said he wrestled with the men, and was hit with a gun-butt on his shoulder, before
managing to escape. The men took the car.
Bunroeun returned to the KNP office and told his colleagues what had happened. Believing
that he had been the subject of an armed robbery, a group of people went to talk
to Sophy and Chhat.
The two policemen - in circumstances that were to be the center of later dispute
- were escorted to the KNP office.
Bunroeun said he had asked Sophy and Chhat to act as witnesses to the "robbery"
of the car by the three men.
Sophy and Chhat agreed with Bunroeun's version - at least to begin with - as other
police arrived and began sealing off the road outside KNP.
"The victim [Bunroeun] invited us to help act as witnesses," Chhat, the
military policeman, told the Post.
Sophy added: "We were asked to come here to help clarify the incident."
Asked if he was made to enter the premises, he said: "No... nobody forced me
However, the police outside reckoned otherwise. Dozens of officers, from the national,
municipal, military and traffic police forces, converged on KNP en masse, with an
array of weapons. Several had rocket launchers, with up to six spare rockets each,
others had AK47s and "tommy-gun" style machine guns. At least one officer
filmed the scene with a video camera.
By the time senior police - including municipal penal police chief Mak Chito, traffic
police head El Samneang and municipal military police head Mak Chan Sakhan - arrived
to serve the court warrant, Sophy and Chhat were under no doubt that they had been
"I tell you frankly, there were no guns, but they forcibly brought me here,"
Sophy told reporters as his boss, El Samneang, was standing nearby.
Sophy said he had been "pushed" to the KNP office by a crowd of party supporters,
despite having "raised my hands" to try to get them to leave him alone.
Sophy appeared nervous as he told his story, watched by amazed onlookers who had
heard him say the complete opposite a short time earlier.
Sakhan, chief of the local military police, declared: "They [KNP] abused their
rights by forcing them [Sophy and Chhat] to come here."
Several dozen police conducted a thorough search of the building as those inside
the premises - including a handful of foreigners who had rushed there after the first
police had arrived - were told they were under "protective detention."
Chhat and Sophy were later led away by a group of police, who also took the AK47
and walkie-talkie, but no arrests were made.
KNP Secretary-General Khieu Rada - in the absence of party leader Sam Rainsy, who
is overseas - condemned the police action as intimidation.
"All the problems were pieced together in order to find a motive to search our
place," Rada said during the police raid. "This can be considered an official
attempt to close our headquarters."
An unsigned Interior Ministry statement issued the next day threatened to sue Rada
for his "cruel and ignorant" comments which maligned "the honor and
dignity" of the Royal Government's law enforcement agencies.
Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry said this week that charges might still be laid
against KNP staff for forcing Sophy and Chhat inside KNP.
Further charges were possible because the car that had been driven by KNP treasurer
Kuoy Bunroeun had earlier been stolen, he said.
Post inquiries confirm that the car was owned by Sea Chinleng, an employee of Compagnie
Kampuchea des Carburants, who said he lent it to his friend Pang Seak Hong in December.
Hong, who has since disappeared, never returned the car and 'pawned' it to his friend
Sea Savoeun, a military police major, in return for a $3,000 loan.
Savoeun in turn lent the car to Bunroeun, his nephew, who used it until it was seized
by the three Ministry of Interior officers on the morning of the KNP siege.
Savoeun said he thought Hong owned the car and neither he nor Bunroeun had known
"I regret very much that the authorities did not invite my nephew to be questioned
first [rather than] causing the surprise that they did," said Savoeun.
Meanwhile, KNP has been ordered to "immediately" remove its sign and logo
from outside its headquarters, following a meeting between party representatives
and local officials that occurred at the same time as the police raid.
Suon Rindy, chief of the municipality's Daun Penh district, gave the order in a Jan
31 letter to KNP.
But party Secretary General Khieu Rada defied the order, saying: "We will not
remove them [the sign and logo]. If the district wants it, let them send troops to
do it and that will be illegal."