Officers Behaving Badly an All-Too-Common Occurrence

Another week, another uniformed official suspected of com­mit­ting a serious offense.

From the Phnom Penh deputy mi­nor crime police chief who alleg­edly killed a fellow officer by drugging his beer, to the RCAF briga­dier general charged with allegedly firing his handgun, injuring an innocent by­stander—over the past six weeks, uniformed officials have struggled to maintain a positive public profile.

Defense Minister General Tea Banh, however, said yesterday that the high-profile scandals are “individual problems” and not reflective of the entire military.

“It is an individual issue that happen to a person among thousands of people,” General Banh said.

“This is usually happening to the agencies which consist of thousands of people.”

Gen Banh added that punishment needed to be used to warn those who committed “bad deeds.”

“We have the unit that work with this and the wrongdoers have to get punishment depending on their level of wrongdoing,” he said.

The list of recent incidents reads like a public relations official’s worst nightmare.

On Feb 27, Phnom Penh Deputy Municipal minor crimes police chief Neang Sokna was charged with unintentional murder for allegedly poisoning one of his officers, Tim Titya, at a beer-drinking party he organized at their Daun Penh district police station.

On March 16, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court found RCAF Bri­g­adier General Keo Monysoka guilty of kicking and punching a female teacher and pulling the hair of another at a school in the province on March 5. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but the sentence was commuted to 10 days, which he served in the provincial hospital as he was reportedly ill.

On March 26, a major in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit was arrested after allegedly getting drunk and firing his handgun in the air outside the Chinese Embassy. Major Uong Tithya was arrested by military police and subsequently handed over to the bodyguard unit for punishment.

On March 28, RCAF Brigadier General Soy Narith was arrested for allegedly shooting ice-seller Kong Kon in the face after a traffic altercation in Kompong Speu province. The general was later charged with attempted murder and court officials say the action will go ahead, even though Mr Kon’s family accepted $5,000 to drop their complaint.

On Sunday, Brigadier General Tep Phearum was arrested and later charged after allegedly shooting his handgun in the air while drunk outside his house on busy Street 278 in Phnom Penh’s Cham­kar Mon district. A bullet ricocheted off a nearby building and hit a British expat schoolteacher in the foot, causing minor injuries.

Yesterday, government spokesmen were reluctant to speak about the recent incidents.

“I have no official information about that,” said Interior Ministry spokes­man Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, before hanging up on a reporter.

Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun, however, said the exposure given to incidents may actually be a good thing for the government.

“If officials are showing that they are enforcing the law, it can reduce the negative impact of bad publicity,” Mr Sam Oeun said.

“The problem is that many officials have lived with impunity for their actions for a long time. Maybe by bringing these officials to ac­count, [the government] can show that high-ranking officials cannot behave like they have in the past anymore.”

In January, Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said there were more than 2,120 RCAF generals, up from 613 in 2006. Of the high-ranking officers, more than 2,000 are brigadier generals, the lowest of five ranking levels for generals.

Ny Chakrya, chief investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that it was rare to see higher-ranking officials face punishment for criminal activities.

“Based on a number of cases I have investigated, we find if the accused is too small [in rank], they may be arrested,” Mr Chakrya said.

“[Generally] we find the government institution will protect the perpetrator…. I think most of the population do not believe the police and military officials are there to help or protect them.”

    (Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)


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