Military police on Thursday refuted charges they used force to reverse a court decision and re-imprisoned two suspects who had been freed in connection with the murder of a fellow soldier in Phnom Penh.
But the court’s deputy prosecutor, one suspect’s family and court clerks claimed that three carloads of heavily armed military police surrounded the court with guns drawn Wednesday and forcibly demanded the men be handed over to them.
“Ask the people around the market,” the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s deputy prosecutor, Yet Chariya, said in a telephone interview late Thursday. “They are the witnesses. They saw what the police did, they will tell you.”
The actions of the military have also prompted a court complaint to the government, he said.
Military police, on the other hand, claimed Thursday that Yet Chariya’s decision to free the two was mistaken. They also denied that they surrounded the court.
Oung Depor, deputy chief of municipal military police, charged that the family of one suspect “had discussions” with court officials before a Wednesday pre-trial hearing in which the men were set free. He did not elaborate.
The men, Keo Phirak, 24, and Yeng Lieng Hy, 26, both Ministry of Finance employees, are accused of being accessories to the May 27 murder of a military policeman in the capital’s Russei Keo district. Keo Phirak is the godson of Kompong Cham First Deputy Governor Kang Sean.
A military police investigation on Saturday turned up three witnesses who identified the men as being accessories to the shooting of Sam Sourn, a lieutenant colonel in the municipal military police, Oung Depor said.
The motivation for the killing was a dispute over a woman, although the trigger man, who was with the two suspects at the scene of the crime, is still at-large, Oung Depor said.
Military police then arrested the two men at their Phnom Penh homes on Sunday and took them to PJ prison until the Wednesday court hearing.
Yet Chariya said he set the men free because there was not enough evidence to proceed with an investigation and trial date.
In addition, the men had been arrested without a warrant, both sides confirmed. A legal expert said Thursday that in arrests where suspects are not caught red-handed at the scene, a warrant must be issued by the court.
“[Yet Chariya] had an absolute right to do what he did,” the legal expert commented.
The legal expert cited article 22 of Untac criminal codes, which states that the accused must be immediately released in cases of non-compliance with legal procedure.
When the prosecutor dismissed the case, Oung Depor said two military policemen who had were dispatched to escort the suspects and observe the court proceedings protested.
The policemen radioed Oung Depor, who said he then ordered one car-load of back-up military police to the scene. He said the police were sent because there were “20 or 30 undercover people with pistols” accompanying the family of the suspect.
The group of about seven military police waited at the court until the chief prosecutor, Khan Choeun, arrived and took charge of the case, Oung Depor said. They were not sent to intimidate anyone, he asserted.
“Khan Choeun arrived and said the police could keep the suspects over night and bring them back the next day,” Oung Depor said.
Khan Choeun on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for the suspects and ordered them held in T3 prison until an investigation could be completed, Oung Depor said. Khan Choeun could not be reached for comment.
Prison guards interviewed late Thursday afternoon said the suspects had not yet arrived. The men were to have been held Wednesday night at municipal military police headquarters. Their whereabouts were unclear late Thursday.
Yet Chariya said he had reported the military police’s actions to the Council of Ministers, including Minister of Justice Chem Snguon, in a meeting on Thursday afternoon. (Additional reporting by Touch Rotha, Khuy Sokhoeun and Heng Sinith)