The Ministry of Defense on Tuesday denied any military involvement in killings in Kratie province, saying several reported deaths in Snuol district and elsewhere were the result of clashes between the military and bandits.
The faxed statement was the first formal response from the government to accusations by the human rights community that soldiers have extra-judicially killed at least five men—three in Snuol district and two in Kompong Thom province. The rights groups also alleged as many as 25 other men previously in military custody have disappeared after being released from detention in mid-May.
“The truth was, [the dead men] were bandits that destroyed security and public order, and were a threat to the lives and property of the people,” said an unidentified Ministry spokesman in the statement, which called the military’s actions a “cleanup of reactionaries.”
According to the statement, bandits in Kratie province have killed 26 people, including 14 RCAF soldiers—though little if no publicity has been given to these alleged deaths.
Military officials have consistently characterized the deaths—reported by rights groups—as a firefight between bandits and soldiers near Kratie town in June.
But Mak Tan Kimly, deputy commander of RCAF’s sub-military-region in Kratie province, made a contradictory claim Tuesday. He attributed the Snuol district killings to robbers upset that some of their former cohorts in the shadowy, anti-government Khmer Serey movement had defected to the government.
Mak Tan Kimly also claimed that military officials have accounted for 17 of the missing men after speaking with relatives or the men themselves.
The claim was greeted with skepticism by rights officials.
“If [the authorities] have that kind of surveillance, then we all better watch out,” said one rights official, saying it would be impossible for the government to so easily track down so many men over such a large area.