The UN says it has damning evidence that local authorities were involved in last month’s arrest of a reputed Free Vietnam ringleader, but government officials this week continued to deny involvement in the case.
In a letter sent to the Ministry of Interior last week, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said witnesses “verified” that a Phnom Penh police official was involved in the early August arrest of anti-communist Vu Duc Binh. According to friends and neighbors in Pailin, he hasn’t been seen since,
“I have written to [Interior] Minister Sar Kheng and expressed my deep concern about the arrest and apparent ‘disappearance’ of Mr Vu, but have so far got no reply,” Thomas Hammarberg, the UN’s Sweden-based special envoy to Cambodia, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
“It is urgent that facts be established and the safety of Mr Vu ensured,” Hammarberg wrote. The letter implicates police official Mok Chito and says he “led” the team that arrested Vu Duc Binh.
Under the UN Convention for Human Rights, on which Cambodia is a signatory, police cannot arrest and deport nationals who might face persecution in their home countries.
While the UN does not have evidence that Vu Duc Binh was deported after his arrest, the letter demands to know his whereabouts because he has not yet appeared in court.
Mok Chito, who was suspended last year as head of the municipality’s foreign police after another police official accused him of ordering several killings in Phnom Penh, has since been re-assigned to work as an administrative assistant at National Police headquarters, according to National Police Director General Hok Lundy. On Monday, Mok Chito flatly denied being in Pailin in recent months.
“I never worked on this case. I never arrested this person,” he said. Mok Chito added that his new position leaves him no authority to make such arrests. But he argued that if he had collared Vu Duc Binh, his actions would be lawful under the Cambodian Constitution.
“If I did it, why wouldn’t I admit it?” he asked. “I would be protected by the government. If the arrest were true, it would not be illegal,” Mok Chito said.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, acknowledged Monday his office received the UN letter and Hok Lundy would re-examine the case.
But when again pressed about the case, both Sar Kheng and Hok Lundy continued to firmly deny any new knowledge. “Mok Chito has not been on any mission to arrest anyone from Free Vietnam. I know nothing about this case,” Hok Lundy said.
Vu Duc Binh’s alleged associates said last month that roughly 100 Free Vietnam members are loosely assembled in northwestern Cambodia near the Thai border. The group, also known as Vietnam Tudo or the People’s Action Party of Vietnam, at one time was funded by Vietnamese-Americans and had designs on overthrowing Hanoi.
Several years ago, police—including Hok Lundy—admitted arresting and deporting a group of Free Vietnam members, 24 of whom last week were convicted by a Vietnamese court and sentenced from three to 20 years for subversion.
At the time of those arrests, Cambodian officials also cited the Constitution, which states that foreigners are not allowed to have a military base on Cambodian soil.
But even after a recent statement by Vietnam’s deputy prime minister hinting at a tacit agreement between the two countries to deport anti-communists, the Cambodian government has been reluctant to acknowledge any involvement.