PAILIN - The murder of a Thai couple in this former Khmer Rouge zone prompted a security
clamp-down, a communications black-out, and an admission that a long-rumored prison
here is still operating.
The killings have highlighted the issue of justice in former rebel zones which, while
now theoretically under Royal government auspices, retain their autonomy.
Two men were arrested after the killing of the Thais, a husband and wife who owned
a mining operation in the gem-rich town, over the Khmer New Year.
Thai authorities have reportedly asked that the suspects be turned over to them,
but Pailin officials said they are still debating what to do.
Several Pailin residents, including a relative of one official, said that local justice
has already been dispensed to the two suspects - that they have been executed.
But the Pailin military police chief, Phon Sarin, said early this month that the
pair are being held in jail.
"It's under consideration whether we should offer these culprits to the Thai
authorities or not, but now they are in the Phnom Koy prison in the Pailin area,"
Pailin chiefs, along with their counterparts in the other KR breakaway stronghold
of Phnom Malai, have in recent months denied the existence of prisons in their zones.
It is unclear just what Phnom Koy is. Rebel defectors interviewed in 1992 by a KR
researcher identified Phnom Koy, a hill in remote forest north of Pailin, as a place
where miscreants were executed. The site was on the edge of a small cliff overlooking
a river; bodies were thrown over the cliff, they said.
In a recent trip to Pailin, Post reporters were told that there used to be a "re-education"
center, between Pailin and the Thai border, for soldiers who committed offenses.
Officials described the center as being mined on three sides, with the only possible
escape route towards Thailand. They indicated that inmates who wanted to escape to
Thailand were, unofficially at least, permitted to do so.
While several officials cited re-education - not execution or long-term imprisonment
- as the only form of justice in Pailin, they said the re-education center had been
closed down some time ago.
Other sources who recently visited Pailin say they were told that Phnom Koy does
still exist, but that it is a re-education center, not a prison.
In Phnom Penh, the Ministry of Interior's director-general of administration at the
Ministry of Interior, Prum Sokha, said that "officially, there are no prisons
in the area controlled by former Khmer Rouge".
He added: "If there's a prison, they should report it to the Ministry of Interior
or to the provincial government authorities."
Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry was unaware of the Pailin double murder, but said
he had no ability to intervene in the case.
Hockry said the government had authorized the former KR chiefs of Pailin to "temporarily
govern" the area. He suggested that, if they had no courts of their own, they
should send the culprits to the court in government-controlled Battambang.
The murder of the Thai business couple has rocked Pailin, a town where locals pride
themselves on strict law-and-order and virtually no crime.
The husband was shot and had his throat cut, and his wife was beaten with a stick
and also had her throat slit, one night over the Khmer New Year, according to Phon
Sarin. At least 60,000 Thai baht was stolen in the attack, which happened when most
of the town's mining plots were quiet, their staff away celebrating the New Year.
Two men were caught by police several days after the attack. One was a former Pailin
resident who had been in Battambang and the other was his brother, who still lived
Sarin said the police believe that the Battambang man had contacted his brother beforehand
to arrange the attack, in the same way that other criminals "inside" Cambodia
were contacting accomplices in Pailin to organize crimes.
Because of this, Pailin officials had cracked down on communication with the outside
world. ICOM radios were confiscated from nearly all local officials, and all international
telephone lines set up in shops after the KR breakaway last August were shut down.
Another source in Pailin claimed the communications black-out was to prevent local
people from hearing about the political in-fighting in Phnom Penh, but Sarin said
it was only to reduce the spread of crime.
As well as the double murder, Sarin said there had been instances of cars stolen
in Thailand being smuggled through Pailin to Battambang.
"We have had many problems because of the Thai phone lines set up here, and
without permission to be set up.... It made it hard for us to get control, and most
of the time the robbers have contacted each other through these telephones or ICOM
In one case, he said three men were arrested - at least two of whom were Cambodian
government army soldiers - and a stolen car seized. The car was returned to Thai
authorities and the three men released after unspecified "re-education".
The shut-down of phone lines in and out of the former guerrilla base and confiscation
of radios was ordered by Pailin governor Ee Chhean, one of the few officials to retain
an ICOM, according to Sarin.
At Post press time - just after a big Thai business delegation visited Pailin - it
was unclear whether the telephone ban remained in place.
Earlier, Long Norin, Secretary-General of the breakaway KR's political grouping,
the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM), said Pailin's police and military
police had been ordered to boost security.
"Most of the robbers and criminals are from inside [Cambodia] - Battambang,
Banteay Meanchey and Pursat provinces - and I am sure our people who split from Pol
Pot could not do such things," he said.
His comment echoes those of other former KR bosses who have expressed concern that
their self-proclaimed "clean" areas will be infected by the evils of the
outside world, such as prostitution, corruption and robbery.
DNUM chiefs have said that justice is dispensed by military or commune chiefs through
a system of reconciliation and re-education. They claim that executions - formerly
the ultimate sanction for grievous offenses - have not been conducted in Pailin or
Phnom Malai for several years.
"We have no courts or jails," DNUM leader Ieng Sary told the Post in March.
He said that education was the only method of punishing offenders, but added that
"in the future we [will] need prisons too".
Officials in Phnom Malai, after discussions with Banteay Meanchey provincial chiefs,
recently formed a justice committee.
The United Nations Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) sent a mission to DNUM zones in
January to discuss introducing human rights and justice programs.
"There was quite a good reception from officials and authorities in the former
KR zones," said David Hawk, officer-in-charge of UNCHR.
It was hoped that some kind of program could be begun before the onset of the rainy
season, when road transport would be difficult, he said.
Asked whether UNCHR regional offices would be set up in Pailin and Phnom Malai, for
instance, he said "small units" were being considered.
Hawk said the former rebels had a type of justice system, and were creating police
forces separate from the military, but they "really had no idea of how this
sort of thing is set up and running elsewhere in the country".