National Police Chief Hok Lundy on Wednesday said his invitation to meet with US law enforcement officials on Monday was a sign of their confidence in his abilities as a police officer.
“The US government thinks that I am a good law enforcement leader,” Hok Lundy said in a telephone interview, adding that he and a delegation of six others are to leave for Washington on Friday to discuss transnational crime with officials at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“The US government invited me as a representative from Cambodia,” Hok Lundy said. “For the country’s reputation, I will go,” he said.
The police chief’s comments followed Wednesday’s statement by New York-based Human Rights Watch condemning the US government’s decision to issue him a visa, citing longstanding allegations of serious human rights abuse and involvement in organized crime.
Hok Lundy accused Human Rights Watch of making its allegations at the behest of Cambodia’s political opposition.
“The report is not true. They want to defame me,” he said.
“Human Rights Watch made the report at the Sam Rainsy Party’s request. They want to attack me because I am in the government,” he added.
Hok Lundy also dismissed Human Rights Watch’s allegations that he was involved in criminal activity.
Hok Lundy said the government had proven its willingness to prosecute high-level police officials by capturing and trying former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who has been sentenced to 25 years behind bars for intentional killing and illegal detention and faces other charges.
“If the accusation is real, they can show [the evidence] to the government,” he said. “The government would not tolerate this.”
The US State Department on Tuesday said that, in granting a visa to Hok Lundy, it was not ignoring the serious allegations against him but that there were “compelling reasons” to admit him.
The Washington Post newspaper reported Wednesday that deliberations over granting the visa provoked a “rancorous debate” within the administration of US President George W Bush.
An FBI spokesman on Wednesday referred all questions concerning Hok Lundy’s visit to the US Ambassador in Phnom Penh.
In response to a request for comment from Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail: “The Cambodian National Police Commissioner has made several visits to the US over the past ten years to consult with his American counterparts on ways to strengthen cooperation.”
“The upcoming US visit by the commissioner continues this practice,” Daigle wrote.
“Ensuring greater protection for Cambodia’s most vulnerable citizens is a high priority and is not possible without close cooperation with the Cambodian National Police,” he added.
Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment Wednesday. However SRP leader Sam Rainsy dismissed Hok Lundy’s accusation of collusion with the rights group as “nonsense.”
“[Hok Lundy] does me a great honor by saying that Human Rights Watch are working for me,” he said.
Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, noted that the US had once already denied Hok Lundy an entry visa.
“We completely support the stand taken by Human Rights Watch and are puzzled as to why the State Department has accepted to extend the visa,” Pilorge said.
“As far as I know, nothing has changed. He’s still the same individual he was before,” she said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Hok Lundy would scarcely be bothered by Human Rights Watch’s accusations.
“Human Rights Watch makes noise like the noise of the bell on the neck of the buffalo,” he said, invoking a well-known Khmer proverb. “It doesn’t hurt the buffalo. In fact, the buffalo is eating a full meal.”
Officials in Washington who object to Hok Lundy’s visit are mistaken and may have received a distorted picture of the country, Khieu Sopheak said.
“If you are analyzing the situation of Cambodia from far away, sometimes the analysis is wrong.”
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)