CFF Suspect’s Death Brings Concern for Prison Conditions

Suspected Cambodian Free­dom Fighters member Nou Ith Buntha, 43, died Thursday of AIDS at Preah Monivong Hos­pital. His body was cremated the following day at Ounalom pagoda.

Nou Ith Buntha was accused of taking part in last year’s failed coup and was found guilty in June of conspiracy and membership in an illegal armed force. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

A Prey Sar prison medical staff member, who requested anon­ymity, said Nou Ith Buntha had contracted the AIDS virus before he was arrested. “We had no possibility of treating him, so we sent him to Preah Monivong Hos­pital,” the prison medical staff member said. Nou Ith Buntha remained there for one month before he died.

A Licadho medical staff member also confirmed that blood tests showed the prisoner had the AIDS virus.

Human rights NGO officials have expressed alarm at the high rate of prison deaths and skepticism that prisoners have been receiving adequate medical treatment. But a prison official who requested anonymity said they did not “ignore treating him. He was a main witness for the government and we did not want to lose him.”

More prisoners have died in Prey Sar prison during 2001 than in any previous year. Twenty-eight have died since January and another 16 prisoners have died in provincial prisons, according to a report by Licadho. The NGO also reported several CFF suspects in custody suffered from beriberi.

“We have no suspicion that [Nou Ith Buntha] died in any other [suspicious] way,” said the Licadho medical staff member. “We are concerned about the health of the other pris­on­ers… they are not in good health.”

Cheav Kim Ieng, administration director for Licadho, said the NGO was providing Nou Ith Buntha with one dollar per day for food while he was in Preah Monivong Hospital. “The hospital had no medicine to treat him, so Licadho medical staff assisted in treatment,” he said.


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