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Phon Pheap's last stand

Phon Pheap's last stand

The temperamental and opportunistic Phon Pheap, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldier

who had been wooed by many of Cambodia's political factions, was killed Tuesday evening

in Kompong Speu province after being arrested by military police.

According to Col Mak Chan Sokhan, in charge of crime and security for the military

police (MPs), Phon Pheap was shot as he was trying to escape from a military police

car taking him back to Phnom Penh.

The military police convoy was intercepted by an unidentified group of men along

Rt 4, near the golf course in Kompong Speu, according to Chan Sokhan. "We though

that the group would try to liberate Pheap so the MPs started shooting."

During the fighting, Pheap jumped out of the car and tried to escape, he said.

"The MPs opened fire on him," he said. "We had not handcuffed him

[as] we thought he was an army official like us."

Sokhan said an arrest warrant was issued Tuesday by the military court. Pheap was

accused of not respecting orders and using illegal weapons.

Pheap's death put an end to the turbulent story of the former guerrilla who over

a few months played all sides of the Cambodian political spectrum.

He stepped into the spotlight a few weeks before the July coup, put on stage by the

CPP as proof of Funcinpec's alleged attempt to hide Khmer Rouge forces in Phnom Penh.

During the press conferences, Pheap said he was a special guerrilla commander sent

by Pol Pot to infiltrate the capital. He said he had first joined Funcinpec's forces,

but as he was not paid by his new allies, he turned to the CPP.

In response to Pheap's allegation, Funcinpec displayed KR soldiers in Battambang

on July 4. They said that Pheap was a low-ranking soldier who had problems with Pailin

and Phnom Malai authorities. They accused him of stealing cars and cows, disobeying

orders and chasing women.

Later in the year, Pheap had problems with his own men who accused him of keeping

their salaries for himself. In a September 1997 interview with the Post, Pheap denied

the allegations. "Who accuses me of stealing come and take an oath with me.

I carry magic and it is not good for me to swear [to lie]," he said.

He also complained about his health, saying that he had never recovered from drinking

polluted water while he was fighting in the jungle against Vietnamese troops 17 years

ago.

After leaving the battlefield, Pheap switched to a more lucrative occupation, according

to military officials.

Defense co-Minister Tea Banh complained that Pheap did not go to Samlot to fight

as assigned, but instead became involved in an illegal business venture.

According to Sihanoukville military police chief Chhim Chan Por, Pheap tried twice

over the past weeks to smuggle two containers of cloth out of Sihanoukville port.

"He went with armed soldiers in the port and tried to get the containers without

paying customs taxes. He was not allowed to get the containers out. He tried again

on Tuesday but was not successful, even though he was with representatives of the

Chinese company that owned the cloth," recalled the Sihanoukville military police

chief.

However, Sokhan said that the containers were in Pheap's possession and were seized

at the time of his arrest.

Before his arrest in Kampong Speu, Pheap had a standoff with Sihanoukville military

police.

"Phon Pheap was with ten armed people and Chinese representatives of a company.

We set up a checkpoint to control their guns. But Phon Pheap was very strong and

used very bad words with us. Pheap said: 'You cannot touch my weapons. If you do

there will be fighting,'" said the military police official.

Tea Banh, who confirmed that he had given orders for the arrest of Pheap, said angrily

that Pheap was responsible for his own death. "What kind of soldier opens fire

on a comrade? It is simple when someone shoots at someone. The other one has to shoot

back."

Phon Pheap's corpse was cremated at Tang Krasang pagoda on Wednesday morning.

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