One of the escapees from the June 17 prison breakout in Sihanoukville
is ushered back to jail
WO 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 accounts of witnesses near the prison and the results of a confidential forensic
examination obtained by the Phnom Penh Post indicate that inmates Chen Vibol and
Nheang Yaing Yong were marched 200 meters southwest of the prison after their recapture
in the late afternoon of June 17, and shot twice by prison guards.
The bodies of the men were subsequently buried together 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.
The escape occurred as inmates, who are subject to what human rights workers describe
as severe overcrowding and dangerously inadequate sanitation, were undertaking a
cleaning of the cells requested the day before by a Cambodian human rights group.
A third escapee, Term Phun, was also killed by police. However, his body was not
exhumed for examination due to what human rights workers describe as "conflicting
testimony" regarding the circumstances of his death.
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.
"This office recorded reports of the ill-treatment of recaptured prisoners after
the escape [so] we sent staff to the prison and verified that there was in fact serious
mistreatment, including beatings, shackl-ings, forced deprivation of food, water
and exercise as well as restrictions on family visits," Rosemary McCreery, Director
of the Cambodian office of the UNHCHR, told the Post in a written statement.
"In the process of monitoring prison conditions we recorded information regarding
the circumstances of the deaths of two of the prisoners who'd escaped, which indicated
the need for a full investigation."
The exhumation of Vibol's and Yong's bodies and subsequent forensic examination was
undertaken on July 19 by a coalition of Cambodian human rights groups as well as
representatives of UNHCHR. Sihanoukville Provincial Police and officials of the Provincial
Health Department also participated in the exhumation.
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
"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 of the two
victims' last moments, recording a first shot to Vibol's chest and Yong's back, followed
by a single gunshot wound at very close range to each of the men's heads.
"This man died from a shot in the head," the forensic report on Vibol's
body reads. "He was probably lying on the ground with the head to the side.
The roof of the skull was missing, including the brain."
The forensic report on Yong's body documents virtually identical fatal head wounds.
The nature of the gunshot wounds suffered by the dead inmates is described by one
human rights worker as "classic execution style".
"Even if these guys had been on the run, there's no excuse for the second bullet
to the head," the worker told the Post.
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.
A high-ranking official in the Ministry of Interior who spoke only on condition of
anonymity confirmed the results of the exhumation and described the investigation
into the deaths as "ongoing".
"It's still too early to conclude [that the inmates were murdered]. We're still
not sure," the official told the Post.
The official stressed that the government was intent on uncovering the full facts
regarding the deaths of Vibol and Yong.
"We have asked the cooperation of police and prison officials in Sihanoukville,"
the official said. "We would never defend the culprits, we're just waiting for
the completion of the full investigation."
The official was unsure when the official investigation into the deaths of the inmates
would be complete.