Ten witnesses to Friday’s shootings of two alleged car thieves described the killings Sunday as point-blank executions by plain-clothes police officers.
Newly promoted Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov has hailed the shootings as part of a successful crackdown on a skilled and active car theft ring. He has said that the police officers shot the two suspects in self-defense, after the suspects fired on officers approaching their parked car.
But people living and working on Czechoslovakia Boulevard, near the site of the shootings, gave different accounts on Sunday.
They saw the suspects’ car traveling north, pursued by two unmarked police cars and at least two police on motorcycles, they said. The car appeared to be turning right on Street 122, near the Ministry of Defense, but then stopped in a driveway near the intersection, they said.
One food vendor recalled three plainclothes officers, armed with two pistols and one AK-47 rifle, get out of a police car and carefully approach the suspects at 3:40 pm.
He said he heard one officer order the car’s two occupants to sit still before slipping his pistol into the cracked driver’s door and shooting both men with six or seven bullets.
A second officer shot the men two or three more times with the AK-47, the vendor said.
All 10 witnesses interviewed on Sunday said the suspects did not fire on police and had raised their hands in surrender before police shot them at close range.
All witnesses said there was no indication that the suspects were armed. Women playing cards in the park on Sunday recalled hearing the plainclothes officer order the suspects to “Keep quiet. Don’t react,” before shooting them. “I saw the driver raise both hands to surrender. Then the police shot him immediately,” one woman said. “We are living in fear because of the rumor of [Senate President] Chea Sim’s arrest, and then we saw this,” another food vendor said.
Because the officers were not in uniform, the vendor said: “At the time we didn’t know what the truth was about these people. We thought they were killing opposition activists.”
Heng Pov said Sunday that the witnesses were “lying.” A police vehicle has a bullet hole in it that proves the suspects shot at police, he said.
“The police had no intention to kill them, but when police approached their car to arrest them, they opened fire with two pistols,” Heng Pov said.
He identified one of the dead suspects as Prum Tun, a serial car thief who had been repeatedly arrested. The second man had not been identified, he said. He declined to name the officers involved.
Police acted after receiving complaints of car thefts from foreign NGO officials and embassy officials, Heng Pov said.
Saturday’s edition of the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper featured a photo of Municipal Minor Crime Chief Ly Racy returning a vehicle to a woman, whom it identified only as the Australian first secretary.
Several Australian Embassy officials declined to comment Sunday, but one of the embassy’s Cambodian interpreters identified the woman as First Secretary Sue McQualter.