Former Funcinpec general Nhiek Bun Chhay said Thursday that at least some of the 31 men missing and presumed killed by government soldiers were Funcinpec loyalists, suggesting continued intimidation of the party in the provinces.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, who is now deputy president of the Senate, said Funcinpec officials confirmed to him four days ago “that Funcinpec soldiers were killed in Kratie province.’’
The senator said he is not certain if all of the men were Funcinpec supporters, because he has not yet learned the dead and missing men’s identities.
Few additional details emerged Thursday about the Kratie killings that were first disclosed Wednesday by the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee, which accused government soldiers in Snuol district of executing the men in May for political reasons.
Five bodies had been found in shallow graves. Three had been blindfolded and had their elbows tied before being shot in the back, rights investigators said.
Witnesses said a sixth man was hanged and then dragged by the neck behind a vehicle for several kilometers.
His body has not been found, and 25 other men are missing and presumed dead, according to Chan Soveth, an investigator with CHRAC.
It is still not clear why the men were killed, he said.
Military officials deny the accusations, saying only that seven men who were bandits died in a gunfight with military police in June. Human rights investigators plan to return as early as today to search for the 25 missing men.
The investigation may shed light on the tense situation that has evolved in Kratie since the factional fighting of 1997, when soldiers of the ruling CPP defeated Funcinpec forces.
About 5,000 Funcinpec forces accepted a government amnesty in 1998 and joined RCAF—but another 7,000 either could not or would not do so.
Some have retreated to the jungle in Kratie, where they have skirmished with the military and claimed to be members Khmer Serey, or Free Khmer, a shadowy group of guerrilla fighters.
The military says that is nonsense, and denounces the Khmer Serey as bandits who, they claim, killed RCAF district commander Oum Sam Toch in Kratie last August. Nhiek Bun Chhay said Funcinpec loyalists are often “accused of Khmer Serey [activities] and some are in jail.”
A high-ranking Funcinpec military source agreed the persecution of former Funcinpec soldiers by RCAF is a continuing problem. “[Funcinpec loyalists] are always disturbed in the countryside” by the military, he said. “I don’t know how to help them. It is beyond my capability.”
Chan Soveth, who also works for the human rights group Adhoc, said he wants to return to Kratie speedily “because the victims’ families are afraid they may be killed. I want the government to guarantee their safety.’’
The action committee also sent a series of letters to King Norodom Sihanouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen and government human rights groups, asking that the killings be investigated.
The king is visiting China and is not expected to return until November. Palace officials could not be reached for comment.
The prime minister is traveling to the Philippines and Brunei.
Om Yentieng, a Hun Sen adviser who also heads the government’s human rights committee, said he does not believe Hun Sen will launch an investigation.
“If the Action Committee is sure [of its evidence], it should apply to the courts,” he said. “It is not appropriate to apply to the prime minister.”
Asked if his own committee will investigate, he said, “We are interested in every case involving human rights.’’ He then said the connection was bad, hung up and shut off his phone.
Kem Sokha, who chairs the Senate’s human rights committee, said he expects his committee will meet with the action committee, probably next week.
“We need to get more information about this,’’ he said. “Then we will decide what to do.’’ xx