Senior police officials rallied to the defense of National Police Director General Hok Lundy on Tuesday amid calls for his suspension by the Alliance of Democrats.
The Alliance has criticized police for their investigations into the recent spate of killings in Phnom Penh.
Calling the investigation and recent arrest of suspects in the killing of union leader Chea Vichea a “travesty of justice,” the Alliance said Hok Lundy has repeatedly failed “to conduct credible” investigations of cases with alleged political motives.
“The Alliance of Democrats strongly supports the call for a suspension of the Head of the National Police,” the Alliance wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay also wrote to King Norodom Sihanouk on Monday seeking the suspension of the country’s most senior policeman.
Son Chhay said Hok Lundy “should resign honorably” or be removed, as authorities have allowed a “scandalous situation” to arise and people have lost confidence in the rule of law.
“I would like your Majesty to consider issuing a Royal Decree or offer Samdech Chea Sim [acting head of state] to delegate and sign a letter for the immediate suspension of Hok Lundy,” Son Chhay wrote.
Hok Lundy could not be contacted for comment on Tuesday. A government official said the National Police chief left Cambodia on Tuesday to accompany co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to Indonesia.
Leading Khmer-language newspapers on Tuesday ran front page advertisements from senior police chiefs congratulating Hok Lundy on his 47th birthday.
Mao Chandara, National Police deputy secretary-general, said the show of support was not related to the calls for Hok Lundy’s removal. It was Hok Lundy’s birthday and “we always support our leader,” he said.
Municipal Police Chief Suon Chheangly dismissed Hok Lundy’s critics.
“I strongly support Hok Lundy,” he said. “If [Hok Lundy] had no ability, Phnom Penh and the whole country would have no security.”
Chhay Sinarith, chief of the Interior Ministry’s intelligence gathering Information Department, called Son Chhay a perennial critic of the police.
“He never sees good in the authorities, only bad,” Chhay Sinarith said.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also lauded the police chief’s work, saying 80 percent of investigations were successful.
“Son Chhay just counts a few cases but does not count the big achievements by the police,” he said.
Citing a string of largely unsolved assassination-style killings in Phnom Penh in the past 12 months, the Alliance has lashed out at the apparent “procedural errors” in the investigation of Chea Vichea’s slaying.
The police investigation and procedures leave much to be desired, legal experts and human rights workers alleged on Tuesday.
On Jan 23 Deputy Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov, who is heading the Chea Vichea investigation, said he believed the killer was a former acquaintance of the union leader.
Three days later police released an artist’s impression of the alleged killer, a fresh-faced 24-year old, who was alleged to have a history of gang activity and drug use.
Potential witnesses who were at Wat Langka at the time of the slaying, said they had not given police any description of the killer.
The Alliance said in their statement on Monday that Heng Pov told Radio Free Asia that the killer’s description was given to police via telephone.
Two suspects were arrested last week by police. Suspect Sok Sam Oeun, 36, was arrested based on the confession of Born Samnang, 23, police said.
But at a news conference on Thursday, both suspects wailed that they were innocent of the crime and that police had beaten them. The following day, Born Samnang changed his story and told reporters at the municipal court that he was in fact the killer.
Confusion continued on Saturday when Born Samnang said he used a K-59 to kill Chea Vichea, while investigating judge Hing Thirith said he had confiscated a K-54 handgun from the suspect.
Both Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun—who maintains his innocence—were charged with use of illegal weapons and intentional killing.
On Friday, at the headquarters of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, another suspect in the Chea Vichea case was also giving a boisterous confession of his crimes.
Though remaining beyond police apprehension for some six months, military police presented Men Vatana, 44, the suspect who allegedly sent a threatening text message to Chea Vichea last July.
Men Vatana was more than verbose in his confession of self guilt and that of his alleged paymaster, Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang.
Men Vatana was charged with insult and possession of illegal ammunition by the municipal court on Monday, prosecutor Yet Chakriya said Tuesday.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said publicly parading suspects in front of reporters and TV cameras could bias the case. But Cambodian law does not prohibit such exposure, he added.
Though the suspects have made public confessions, to rule out the possibility of coercion, the law states that evidence must still be presented in court, Sok Sam Oeun said.
Article 24 of the Untac Law states that “Confessions by accused persons are never grounds for conviction unless corroborated by other evidence.”
“The law states this clearly,” Sok Sam Oeun said.