THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 8, No. 18
September 3-16, 1999
TWO of three inmates who were killed after a mass breakout from Sihanoukville Prison on June 17 have been found to have been murdered execution-style by prison guards following their recapture the same day. The bodies were subsequently buried in a shallow grave near to the spot where they were killed.
Vibol, 27, who was serving a 36-month sentence for robbery and Yong, 20, who was in pre-trial detention, were just two of 35 inmates who participated in a mass escape from Sihanoukville Prison on the afternoon of June 17. A third escapee, Term Phun, was also killed by police. Nineteen inmates were eventually recaptured and returned to the prison. A remaining 13 escapees remain officially at large.
The execution of the two inmates was uncovered as a result of an investigation by the Cambodian Office of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) into reports of mistreatment of recaptured prisoners.
The exhumation of Vibol's and Yong's bodies and subsequent forensic examination was undertaken on July 19.
The witness accounts and the forensic examination of the two dead inmates directly contradict the accounts of the men's deaths supplied to the media in June by Sihanoukville Prison Director Sam Saroeun. At that time, Saroeun claimed that both Vibol and Yong were armed with weapons seized from guards during their escape and were killed by policemen trying "to protect themselves".
"Witnesses have told us that [Vibol and Yong] were recaptured alive and returned to the prison," the source told the Post. "Then later that same day they saw the men brought from the prison by guards and then heard four shots."
The forensic examination of the bodies support the witnesses' accounts, recording a first shot to Vibol's chest and Yong's back, followed by a single fatal gunshot at very close range to each of the men's heads.
While stressing that investigation of the inmate's murders has hinged on close cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, there is palpable frustration on the part of the coalition of human rights groups involved with the case that no concrete action has been taken by the government over the past six weeks to censure Sihanoukville Prison officials or bring to justice those responsible for the killings.