THE drug smuggling conviction of a military policeman, who was closely associated
with his ranking superiors, prompted a full-scale attack against the chief of Cambodia's
anti-drug squad on the night of March 6.
Anti-drugs squad chief Heng Peo's house was attacked by up to 100 MPs in a military-style
operation around 9:30pm, just meters away from the popular Heart of Darkness bar
and the municipal police commissariat.
Some access roads were cordoned off by gun-toting MPs, while others riddled Heng
Peo's house with AK-47 fire.
A bullet went straight through his ground-floor bedroom window, and another smashed
the rear window of a pick-up truck parked in front of his house.
Tension remained high in the area for 30 minutes before police reinforcements from
the Ministry of Interior came to support Heng Peo's men.
The day before, a Kandal court sentenced a military policeman to 10 years jail for
smuggling six tons of cannabis.
According to judicial sources, Heng Peo arrested this man on January 6 in Kien Svay
A shaken Heng Peo emerged from his house two hours after the gun battle, railing
against his attackers: "By ICOM [radio], I heard them saying 'kill Heng Peo,
kill Heng Peo'.
"Low ranking soldiers usually do not have ICOM.
"How can the military police go out of their barracks with 100 troops? It is
a lot, you need to have support to do it," he said, as his terrified wife peeked
out from the door.
Heng Peo said the first people he called were Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and
the Director-General of National Police, General Hok Lundy.
"[Lundy] sent one group of police to confiscate the guns of the MPs. He said
on his ICOM to the MPs 'if you do not go back to your barracks I will bring a group
of 200 to 300 men'", Heng Peo claimed.
Two days later, in a separate interview, Heng Peo confirmed his fear of becoming
"It was organized.
"There were three groups, one attacking my office, one attacking my house and
one controlling the access roads around the area."
He added that he had previously received death threats.
Another source said the Friday attack was a punitive strike to intimidate Heng Peo.
"If he stops working on drug smuggling, the anti-drug fight stops.
"He has been working on very sensitive cases in which MPs were involved. They
probably want to discourage him."
These sources said that the message had probably got through and that the anti-drug
police will probably now be less inquisitive.
A third source said that the military police are a very powerful force and difficult
"If they dare to send 100 men like this to intimidate a man they consider a
trouble-maker, it means that they do not fear much," he said.
The source added that General Kieng Savuth, the head of the Military Police, is also
member of the CPP central committee.
"He controls a very well organized force and it would not be wise to put this
man aside before the elections."
Human rights workers have already documented instances of murder and intimidation
by military police towards drug police.
In January 1996, the deputy commander of the Ministry of Interior anti-narcotics
bureau, Colonel Long Sopharith, was killed by an MP officer in a restaurant in Phnom
In the same month, in Koh Kong, a group of provincial MPs savagely beat chief of
the provincial anti-narcotics police, Ky Kangrey.
Kangrey had destroyed marijuana fields protected by the military police. He remains
paralyzed from his head injuries.
The military police, modelled on the French gendarmerie, has been in existence since
Since then, it has received support and training from the French government.
Human rights workers have documented many cases of abuses committed by MPs, who were
also prominent in the fighting last July.
Last November, United Nations Human Rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg asked in his report
to the UN General Assembly that the MPs be disbanded if they "cannot be brought
under the rule of law".