Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pailin puzzles over Ee Chhien rocket attack

Pailin puzzles over Ee Chhien rocket attack

Pailin puzzles over Ee Chhien rocket attack

ONE thing is certain: a B-40 rocket exploded inside the compound of Pailin Governor

Ee Chhean's town residence on October 17.

But how it got there, who fired it and why they did so remains a matter of some contention

among Pailin officials and residents.

A drunken bodyguard playing around with a rocket launcher? A warning from an unhappy

business partner or disgruntled Pailin citizens? The elusive Khmer Serei rebels attacking

for political reasons. Chhean "planting" the rocket himself to intimidate

his enemies? All these different explanations have been vented since the explosion

took place - and sometimes by the same people.

According to Pailin police, the B-40 didn't hit Chhean's house, which is surrounded

by a tall fence on two sides and an even taller wall on the other two. Nobody was

injured in the 2:30am explosion, but the building sustained minor structural damage.

One day after the attack, Pailin police had announced that the explosion was an attack

by alleged anti-government Khmer Serei rebels. Officers from the police station 50

meters away from Chhean's house reportedly pursued the attackers and shot at them

before they disappeared into nearby woods.

On November 4, the explanation for the attack abruptly shifted to an "accident".

That day Pailin police arrested one of Chhean's bodyguards, who supposedly fired

the rocket by accident because he was drunk and fooling around. The next day he was

freed from custody.

"We found that the B-40 explosion was not politically motivated and not a business

dispute," said Pailin police chief Lei Chanchhay. "The bodyguard confessed

to us that he was drunk and played around with the weapon."

That story is given little credence by the extremely weapon-savvy population of Pailin.

"Drunken soldiers play around with machine guns and pistols," a longtime

soldier and resident of Pailin told the Post. "I have never heard of anybody

playing around with a rocket launcher."

Now, Chanchhay says that there was no shooting after the explosion, a story contradicted

by two witnesses interviewed by the Post during a recent visit to Pailin.

"When I heard the explosion I was very frightened so I hid myself. Then I heard

people running and the shots from AK-47s," said one witness who was close to

the house at the time of the attack.

Other longtime residents of Pailin said there is plenty of reason to believe that

the attack was a warning to Chhean from disgruntled Pailin citizens. Chhean's popularity

is rapidly dwindling, they said, and he has made many enemies among former Khmer

Rouge fighters, who are disappointed with the unequal distribution of power and wealth

since defecting in 1996.

Last month Chhean fired the head of the Pailin Customs Department and gave the position

to his own 20-year-old son, Vuthy. Also, the Deputy Chief of the Military Police

was recently replaced by a close Chhean associate.

And there are old disputes from before the defection that involve a lot of money

and that are still festering below the surface.

"Before the defection many people were cutting and selling logs," one resident

explained.

"After defection there was a ban on logging and Chhean collected all the timber

in one place. The people who had cut the logs expected him to pay them 300,000 to

400,000 baht for the wood. They never received any money and now they are very angry."

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