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Soldiers rampage in K Chhnang

Soldiers rampage in K Chhnang

K RANG KONTRO, KOMPONG CHHNANG - Cambodian soldiers have abducted and robbed civilians

at gunpoint in at least nine incidents in Kompong Chhnang province, say residents

of this remote hamlet who witnessed the Sept 18 slaying of six children by a drunken

soldier.

Several cases of kidnapping and extortion of ransom money from peasants have occurred

in the nearby villages of Chrok Sdach and Chrok Kov since a unit of the Special Military

Region Forces (SMRF) pulled back from Krang Kontro in the wake of the September killings,

locals said.

The SMRF, a wing of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces that patrols Phnom Penh and

peripheral regions, operates in that sector of Kompong Chhnang, a foreign military

analyst confirmed.

An elderly man from Chrok Sdach related how he and others had been kidnapped in the

middle of the night by soldiers belonging to the unit.

"They came into my home and forced me out at gunpoint," he said.

"They detained me somewhere else, together with two others who had been kidnapped,

until our friends or relatives had collected enough ransom money to secure our release.

In my case, my wife collected $150 from our neighbors. I was freed within three hours."

The man reported that there had been eight other cases of kidnapping in his village

since Sept 1, some of which had lasted two days.

Although the people of Krang Kontro said they had not been intimidated by members

of the unit since September, they requested anonymity and reported that two SMRF

soldiers had been seen on the day the Post visited.

On Sept 18, at 12:10pm, six children - aged 5 to 8 - were killed and six other children

and five adults were wounded when a soldier fired a B-40 rocket at a food and beverage

stall where soldiers and children had gathered, witnesses said.

"The children were gathered in front of the shop and were eating bananas and

playing with their toys," said the mother of an 8-year old, who suffered a minor

shrapnel injury.

"I saw two soldiers who were drunk, sitting there drinking rice wine,"

her mother said. "They were later joined by a captain and another soldier who

came there for their lunch."

She said she had been passing by on her way home several minutes before the explosion,

when she overhead the drunken soldier who pulled the trigger tell his drinking mate:

"Only one B-40 rocket is not enough for those people at the house."

This was confirmed by another woman, the only adult civilian who saw the killing

and who, along with her niece, was injured in the explosion.

The woman said that when the soldier fired the rocket, he had been pointing his B-40

at the other soldiers - not at the children - and that none of the other soldiers

had tried to disarm him.

The villagers also reported that the soldier, who they said was named "Ros",

survived the blast and fled - contrary to a statement made by Prom Din, the SMRF

commander, who was quoted earlier as saying that the killer had also died with the

children.

"When I heard the explosion, I came out to see what had happened," the

mother said.

"I saw Ros. His right hand was bleeding while he ran away. He fell down twice

before he escaped. Afterwards, another soldier from the same unit, who had come to

help, went searching for the killer but later reported that Ros had disappeared."

The villagers said they did not believe the soldier had deliberately targeted the

children.

By their account, the captain and another soldier fired their automatic rifles into

the air to call for help to evacuate the wounded. Both the captain and the soldier

were blinded in the blast.

In the aftermath, a village delegation was sent to Kompong Chhnang town to lodge

a complaint with the provincial governor, they said.

"The government has done nothing for us," one villager said. "They

have not given us any money to compensate for this."

Provincial governor Phok Sam-oeun was unavailable for comment.

A senior police officer at Kompong Chhnang Provincial Commissariat - who refused

to identify himself - said his office was "unaware" of these killings and

had "not received any such reports."

But, according to Duong Hong, a policeman stationed near Krang Kontro, an official

report was sent to the provincial commissariat as far back as Sept 19, the day after

the killings.

King Norodom Sihanouk on Nov 20 sent a letter to the two prime ministers, in which

he condemned the "extra-judicial execution", and noted that the incident

had been brought to his attention by Amnesty International.

Ly Thuch and Om Yientieng, the respective spokesmen for the first and second prime

ministers, as well as Ek Sereywuth, a secretary of state for Defense, all said they

had not been informed of the King's letter.

"I would be grateful if you could take urgent appropriate measures in order

that our people and children enjoy full protection and also for those responsible

for these atrocities to be taken to justice and punished," the King wrote.

Krang Kontro village is practically cut off from the outside world. It is a two hour

drive by motorbike from the Route 5 turnoff, 10 kilometers northwest of Oudong. It

is the road where three Frenchmen and five Cambodians were abducted by Khmer Rouge

guerrillas on Oct 20.

"The KR forces which took those French bikers defected to RCAF on Nov 16-17

and are now serving in the Special Military Region Forces," a foreign military

analyst said.
- (Additional reporting by Cham Roeun)

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