Human rights groups on Friday responded by fax to a terse Ministry of Defense statement released earlier this week blasting rights officials for accusing the military of killing at least six men in Kratie province.
The 13-point press release has rights officials defending their evidence of extrajudicial killings in what has become a public battle between RCAF and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee over how events unfolded in Snuol district earlier this year.
CHRAC called the Defense Ministry statement “misleading,” suggesting that military reports of gun battles between soldiers and bandits may be confused with the Snuol incident.
RCAF continues to blame at least seven “bandit” deaths on a gun fight near Kratie in June. But rights officials claim the men may have been associated with anti-government group Khmer Serey. Using witness statements to back up their allegations, they say the men were rounded up by the military in late-April, and some of them were later killed.
One former detainee—identified by rights officials as the brother of one of the three men found dead in early May in Snuol district—also gave evidence of a mass sweep of men from nearby Khsim village and the disappearance of five of them.
Military officials acknowledge temporarily detaining more than 30 men but deny involvement in the killings of the three men found dead near the military compound where they were held.
Though CHRAC initially suggested all the men kept for almost a month in military custody may have been executed, it has since tempered its allegations, saying that the fate of the missing men is “uncertain.” The military maintains it can account for at least 17 of the men through interviews with relatives.
It was this initial claim of mass executions that prompted Defense Ministry officials to threaten CHRAC with a defamation lawsuit, though there is no indication that a suit will move forward. A senior military official said Friday that legal action was unlikely.
(Additional reporting by the Associated Press)