Family of Slain Protesters Questioned Despite Closed Investigation

Family members of two men slain by military police in violent suppression of a garment worker protest in January were questioned Wednesday at the Ministry of Interior, although the investigation into the killings was officially declared closed on March 16.

Soun Nara, the brother of Yean Rithy, 25, and Khem Soeun, the father of Khem Sopath, 16, said penal police had questioned them in full about the events of January 3.

Yean Rithy was killed by military police deployed to disperse the protesters. Khem Sopath’s body has not been found, but he was last seen bleeding profusely from a wound to the chest at the scene of the protest. Rights groups have called on authorities to investigate his whereabouts.

Suong Samol, the father of Kim Phalleap, 25, another of the five victims killed by state forces, also said that police questioned him last Thursday.

Mr. Samol said that during his questioning at the Interior Ministry, police attempted to shift the blame for their inability to identify and prosecute those responsible for the Veng Sreng killings.

“They said we should have filed a complaint immediately after the shooting, then they would have found justice for us,” he said.

“But who dares file a complaint against the authorities since they are the ones who killed my son?” he asked.

Contacted Wednesday, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, declined to explain why the investigation had apparently been reopened after Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Phou Povsun declared it closed 10 days before.

“You have to ask [military police spokesman Brigadier General] Kheng Tito, we share the responsibility of answering these questions,” General Sopheak said, before hanging up on a reporter.

Brig. Gen. Tito has repeatedly denied that military police killed five garment workers on January 3, despite journalists and human rights monitors having seen them shoot AK-47 assault rifles toward the protesters. Earlier this week, he said that any announcements about the investigation would be made by the Interior Ministry.

Authorities have similarly failed to hold anyone to account for the killings of Mao Sok Chan and Eng Sokhom, bystanders killed by police gunfire during demonstrations late last year.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at human rights NGO Licadho, which has campaigned for the military police to be brought to justice for the use of excessive force, said officials were buying time by calling families for fruitless questioning.

“We have heard that they had closed the investigation. Calling the families to be questioned again is just another case of authorities making excuses in this case,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

“They need to present the findings from the investigation and find justice for the families.”

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