L t. Colonel Sat Soeun - acquitted last May on a charge of murdering a journalist,
then later promoted in seniority in the RCAF - is about to be charged for another
two murders, and a non-fatal shooting.
The chief prosecutor of the Kompong Cham court, Ouk Touch, said the cases would be
heard by months end and that "there is no way that [Sat Soeun] can escape this
Soeun is believed now to be wounded in the Division 5 military hospital, in Battambang
province, where he had been sent in January, according to a local human rights worker
who had talked to Soeun's wife. Soeun's former bodyguards independently confirmed
this, saying he had been promoted to Battambang from Kompong Cham at his own request.
Last May, Soeun was acquitted in the murder case of a Cambodian journalist, Chan
Dara, angering human rights officials and legal observers, and prompting some senior
government officials in Phnom Penh to allege foul play in the court's proceedings.
According to Touch, the current cases involve a 1993 killing of an alleged moto-thief,
followed by the wounding of another civilian, and most recently a "cold-blooded"
execution of a sixteen year old waiter in Kompong Cham, say witnesses.
When an arrest warrant was finally issued by the Kompong Cham court in connection
with the most recent killing, Sat Soeun went into hiding.
According to the prosecution, the case compiled against Soeun should result in a
conviction, but few observers here have any hopes of a guilty verdict, despite the
"overwhelming evidence" against the RCAF colonel.
Many agree that if there is ever a trial it will be in absentia, and if convicted,
Sat Soeun is unlikely to serve any jail time as long as his reported relation with
the army continues.
Touch, though, said: "This is very different from the Chan Dara case."
He said that the lack of corroborating evidence and eye-witnesses prompted last year's
Three separate arrest warrants have been issued against Soeun in connection with
each charge, according to Ouk Touch.
At the time of the first trial, human rights groups maintained that a fair trial
could only be held in Phnom Penh, away from Soeun's alleged powerful connections
with high ranking provincial officials.
"Maybe in the future when the Ministry of Justice appoints new judges and Cambodia
will have an independent judiciary, then Sat Soeun will be convicted," said
one human right worker who requested anonymity.
But the prosecutor dismissed allegations of interference by people outside the court.
However, he said that the president of the Kompong Cham Court, Tet Sothe, had not
yet selected a judge to preside at the trial.
"The investigation was complete and we are waiting for the Chief of the Court
to appoint a judge and select a trial date," he said.
But human rights workers and legal observers maintain that the appointment of a presiding
judge and of a trial date are likely to be delayed because Soeun's alleged connections.
Human rights sources say the reported fact that Soeun has been transferred by RCAF
to Battambang, and RCAF claims that it doesn't know where he is, is evidence of the
protection he enjoys.
Investigations by human rights groups during the last several months, indicate Soeun
first escaped to the eastern district of Dambe in Kompong Cham.
The area is considered a "no-go" zone by both civilian and military police.
"Nobody dares to go there," says Touch, explaining that the region, which
is densely forested and difficult to reach by road, is controlled by the military.
According to sources, local and provincial authorities are increasingly frustrated
by military intimidation of courts and police.
High ranking military police often complain of having to send their officers into
this "off-limit" area under-cover so they can conduct investigations without
being confronted by RCAF soldiers, human rights workers say.
"If the military police entered that area, they would be shot," said one
human rights worker.