Military Figure Re-Emerges as Witness in Slain Journalist’s Case

The court investigating the murder of a journalist has questioned a notorious former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) colonel, who was last heard of serving a 10-year prison sentence for attempted murder, a court official said yesterday.

The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has this week questioned a number of witnesses over the killing of reporter Hang Serei Odom, whose battered body was found in the trunk of his car on September 11. Former military police Captain An Bunheng and his wife, Sim Vy, have been charged with the murder.

Storied former military official Sath Soeun, popularly known by his nickname Soeun Phen Dai, or “Master of the Earth,” was questioned as a witness in court on Tuesday, investigating Judge Luch Lao confirmed.

“He was questioned as a witness,” Judge Lao said, declining to elaborate because he was busy questioning more witnesses.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that both Sath Soeun and military police official King Sieng Lay—the stepson of provincial military police Commander Kim Reaksmey—were questioned on Tuesday.

Hang Serei Odom, a reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily newspaper, had published a story about Mr. Sieng Lay’s involvement in the illegal logging trade in the province.

“We haven’t received detailed information about what they told the court,” Mr. Bonnar said.

Sath Soeun could not be contacted for comment.

Sath Soeun was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of an RCAF lieutenant colonel in 2004. His appeals failed, despite arguing in court that if he had wanted to kill his victim, he would have succeeded.

According to local human rights group Licadho, Sath Soeun was also charged, but later acquitted in the 1994 murder in Kompong Cham province of Koh Santepheap journalist Chan Dara, who had published stories on timber and rubber deals involving the military.

Sath Soeun is reportedly now working as a foreman for well-known businessman Try Pheap, who holds a controversial land concession in the densely forested “Dragon’s Tail” area in northern Ratanakkiri near the Vietnamese and Laos border, Mr. Bonnar said.

At the Ratanakkiri court yesterday, Hang Serei Odom’s 15-year-old daughter, San Marady, also appeared, according to Hok Phalla, the lawyer representing the deceased’s family.

Marady recounted in court the last conversation she had with her father by phone shortly before he was killed. Marady said that she heard her father say to another man, “What do you want?” Mr. Phalla reported. The lawyer said Marady had heard the man reply, “I don’t know, just wait and see,” before the phone cut out.

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