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
"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."