THE tally of political murder in Cambodia is - as of today - more than 100 people,
all killed within in the last nine months.
The United Nations Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) is poised to publish within a
week a report investigating a number of deaths since the 41 killed during and after
last July's coup. UN Envoy Thomas Hammarberg put the number of new cases at "more
The Post accompanied rights workers this week to Banteay Meanchey and found evidence
of another four uninvestigated deaths. Rights workers - since the Center's report
- know of at least another "five or six".
Rights workers and others are worried that international electoral donors are turing
a blind eye to the catalogues of killing being compiled.
"We know there's killings going on, we know nothing's being done," said
one Western diplomat. "Nobody feels they can come down on these important issues
without annoying Hun Sen... The pragmatic view is, 'How many more people will be
killed if we annoy Hun Sen?'"
The diplomat said that donors felt they should reward the Second Prime Minister for
allowing Prince Ranariddh to return and, with few exceptions, not press the human
One rights worker said he believed donor nations would swallow almost any amount
of political violence.
British Ambassador George Edgar - one of the four diplomats who is monitoring the
political climate for the EU, which is helping to fund the polls - told the Post
it would be unhelpful of him to comment on a report he had not seen.
He could not comment on whether the latest UNCHR report would be discussed at the
next "Friends of Cambodia" meeting in Bangkok on April 19, nor if it would
sway the EU's decision to continue funding the electoral process.
When asked what was his reaction to reports detailing another 50 killings, he paused
and said: "What exactly do you mean, reaction? It's really not helpful for me
The report, which will detail "a significant number" of executions, will
be submitted to the government before it is released publicly, according to Center
director Rosemary McCreery.
The UN's previous rights report was pilloried by Hun Sen who accused UN staff of
a lack of professionalism in compiling reports of 41 "confirmed" executions
and a total of more than 100 likely executions in the month and a half following
the July coup.
Another diplomat, again from a country involved in electoral funding, emphasized
the importance the international community places on the human rights climate and
the new report, but was cautious in talking about reported executions until he had
The diplomat said that the report is likely to be given some weight by UN members,
and the government will once again have a chance to offer its defense. "No one
has the report in their hands... There is the report but there is also the response
of the government. Their response must be seriously considered."
The government maintains it is doing all it can to create a safe atmosphere for elections.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said: "If there is violence or an
atmosphere of intimidation, it affects a free, fair and credible election... We do
[our] best to prevent intimidation, violence or anything that is not accepted by
the people or by the international community."
Yet rights groups agree that cases of political execution appear to have accelerated
And rights workers have cited at least nine more likely political executions they
are investigating, unearthed since the second UN rights report was drafted, which
would bring the death toll up to 100.
"This is probably a fraction of the real number," one source said, noting
that many killings are not categorized as political even though most indications
say they are. Some executions with apparent political motivations have been excluded
from the lists due to issues such as uncertain transliteration of names, in an attempt
to make the report as tight as possible.
In addition to the alleged executions noted in the UN rights reports, strong evidence
has emerged that a spate of killing and intimidation has occurred against suspected
resistance supporters in O'Baichoan, 9km south of Thailand in Banteay Meanchey.
On Feb 27 in Snoul Tret village, six men in military uniforms opened fire with B40
rockets and killed Col Tem Sophat, 56, a bodyguard of resistance general Lay Virak,
villagers said. The attackers also killed Sophat's child, Tem Kleng, 8, and another,
Mel Chhak, 12.
They warned his neighbors that the same could happen to them, before burning down
Sophat's house. The three bodies are said to be buried in a grave at the back of
Most of the people have since deserted the village.
Sophat, a former Moulinaka resistance fighter loyal to Lay Virak since 1979, had
received authorization to take leave from the resistance and returned home in November,
according to a family member.
One well-informed source suggested CPP-allied forces killed Sophat, who was the effective
village chief of Snoul Tret, for two possible reasons.
One theory was he had been discovered as a resistance recruiter in a de-stabilized
area, while a second was he was trying to protect rice land from CPP officials with
a systematic plan to cut into resistance resources.
"I was told the CPP wants to take over all rice land of commanders of Lay Virak,"
the source said.
One rights worker fretted that the attack might be the "beginning of a pattern
to terrorize former and potential resistance members and their families in an area
where the government has a weak grip" by demonstrating the cost of siding with
Other attacks were cited in the area, including the killing of Lt Col Kem Dara, believed
to have taken place on Dec 21 or 22, which does not yet appear to have been investigated
by rights workers.
Dara was reportedly killed in his home at harvest time as he was trying to negotiate
to keep half of the harvest, according to the source. "The rice was taken by
the CPP alone."
As for the killing of Sophat, Oun Sary - who CPP-friendly officials appointed village
chief at about the time of Sophat's killing - claimed Lay Virak's resistance forces
killed him because he betrayed them and refused to do his assigned job of providing
them with intelligence information.
At least two other families threatened included former Moulinaka resistance fighters
- like many of those listed in the original UN report - and their abandoned houses
have since been reduced to ash.
After the resistance dropped a note into the village inviting villagers to seek "justice
for the dead and wounded... [and] come to the forest", the village chief took
1,114 villagers to a pagoda some 10km due south protected by the government's Division
"[But] villagers have no confidence in Division 12," one rights worker
said. "Many villagers said they were afraid to say who had done [the killing].
Why would they be afraid to say who had done that if it was the resistance who they
are now far from? It was Division 12."
The displaced from Snoul Tret were joined by another 441 villagers from Kla Kaun
- also known as Kaun Trei - where three family members and acquaintances of resistance
Lt Col Bun Sovana were executed Feb 19 after Sovana joined Lay Virak's resistance
forces, rights workers said.
Former resistance supporter Chea Samnang, 39, Touch Tum, 45, and her child by Sovana,
18-year-old Bun Vannak, were shot dead some 300 meters from their homes, according
to local sources. Sovana has since been reported dead, having succumbed to land mine
injuries suffered last week.
Rights workers worry the three incidents bode poorly for possible attempts to re-integrate
or decommission resistance soldiers in the northwest and they note that the toll
goes far beyond the taking of these seven lives.
Rights workers in other parts of the country have engaged in investigations into
many other alleged political executions.
One such case involves a Funcinpec military officer, Lt Col Chea Vutha, who was shot
dead less than 48 hours before his party leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, returned
On March 28, the day of his death, Vutha had left his home in Kien Svay, Kandal and
traveled to Funcinpec headquarters in Phnom Penh. He had been lying low since July's
coup, but that morning he filled out a form to re-register with Funcinpec.
He returned to Kien Svay and met with district party officials, to discuss the distribution
of invitations to Ranariddh's homecoming. He then went to a drinks shop with friends,
was evidently shot by one of them on his way home, and had his motorcycle stolen.
Authorities have called the killing a robbery.
Rights workers noted that two friends and neighbors of the victim, all former Moulinaka
fighters in the same unit and more recently Funcinpec colonels, have been killed
in recent months. One, Col Krouch Bun Song, was killed Dec 24 when returning from
the same drink shop.
"It is political, not robbery," said one investigator on the Vutha case,
noting that his caseload is devoid of dead CPP members. "It's always Funcinpec
and Sam Rainsy Party [members] killed all the time."