pailin – Court officials last week determined that municipal police here executed two murder suspects without trial earlier this year. But the court declined to take any action in the case, which authorities and rights workers have called reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge’s “jungle law.”
“Sometimes we have to let these things go,” Pailin court chief Pich Sarin said last week. “We had the criminals. That’s what is important….Let me ask you this: If somebody kills a poisonous snake, are you angry with the killer?”
The killings of the two suspects were confirmed by military police and human rights workers. Pailin municipal police, however, insist that the two suspects escaped custody and are still at large.
The case has called into question the viability of the Pailin court system, which has no prison and has yet to be recognized by the national judicial system two years after the former Khmer Rouge stronghold was integrated into the government.
Pich Sarin, 57, said Thursday that his office will not investigate or arrest Pailin municipal police officers believed to be involved in the September executions of Sem Dy, 26, and “Rithy,” age unknown.
Both were suspects in the killing of a local army officer.
Instead, Pich Sarin said a one-day training course on the rights of prisoners should close the case.
“This morning, I called police to come in here to educate them about the law,” said Pich Sarin, who has worked in Pailin courts since 1981. He said he explained to police the procedures for sending a report to the court upon an arrest. He also told them that detainees are to treated “according to the law.”
Pich Sarin asserted that the executions are an isolated incident, but he noted that the case is reminiscent of the “jungle law” practiced during the Khmer Rouge era that saw swift, brutal punishment handed down without a trial.
Mey Mann, a longtime Khmer Rouge intellectual, now turned chief of the UN rights office in Pailin, said Friday that the court is capable of dealing properly with such a case. “But the court just seems afraid of the police because the court doesn’t have an official royal decree in Pailin,” Mey Mann said.
The case began with the Aug 17 robbery and slaying of Colonel Kim Mao, a deputy commander in the Pailin-based RCAF Division 22. Four suspects were alleged to have spent a night in Battambang town drinking with Kim Mao before the group set off for Pailin in Kim Mao’s pickup truck.
After entering Pailin’s city limits, Kim Mao was killed and his truck stolen, authorities said.
Pailin military police two weeks later arrested Say Dim, 35, after he tried to sell the stolen vehicle in Pailin. Say Dim confessed to killing Kim Mao, then led Pailin and Battambang police to Sem Dy and Rithy, who were hiding out in a rural area of Battambang, authorities said.
The two suspects were handed over to Pailin municipal police the same day, authorities agree.
The next day, Sem Dy and Rithy were taken to a site some
5 km outside of Pailin town and executed, rights workers and court officials said.
Colonel Som Vey, a deputy commander of Pailin military police, on Thursday confirmed the two men were slain, but said he does not know who the killers are.
Lieutenant Colonel Bou Sarin, a deputy commander of Pailin municipal police, insisted however that the two men escaped and police are still searching for them. “Both of [the suspects] escaped because we have no proper place to hold them,” he said.
Municipal police displayed the room from which they say the two men escaped, a small office in police headquarters with a door and window leading outside. A padlock was placed on the door outside and several wooden scraps had been nailed over the window to keep it from opening. Bou Sarin said it is nothing new for suspects to escape from the room, and said it happens often.
“It isn’t true that this case is an example of what happened in the Khmer Rouge era,” said Bou Sarin. “People misunderstand about that.”
The military police colonel, Som Vey, said an investigation into the killings is a municipal police responsibility and his office is not involved. Say Dim is still being held in military police headquarters and a fourth suspect has eluded capture, he added.
Pailin was incorporated into the royal government in 1996 following the defection of longtime rebel deputy Ieng Sary. Since then, the municipality has attempted to change from the closed-door communist system to an open society.
But the transition has been slow in some areas.
Military police and police officials said the municipality has no money to build a prison in Pailin. Without one, they will continue to hold detainees “improperly” in makeshift cells and risk the suspects’ escape, they said. Pailin Governor Y Chhien has considered building a prison with his own money, but nothing is expected soon, officials said.
Authorities in 1997 gave implicit permission for the Pailin court to operate with limited powers, but it has not been incorporated into the national court system by royal decree, Pich Sarin said. The court follows Untac law and has handled 128 cases since it opened last November. Most of the cases it deals with involve land disputes, misdemeanor robbery and debt disputes, he said.
Pich Sarin said he expects Phnom Penh will officially recognize the court sometime in 1999.
Still, Battambang court officials say the Pailin court does not have the authority to issue arrest warrants. Pech Chuon, deputy chief of Battambang courts, said Monday that all arrest warrants for Pailin must be processed through his office. The provincial court had no record of arrest warrants issued for either of the two men allegedly executed.