R’kiri Commune Chief Flees Trafficking Charge

A newly elected SRP commune chief in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district has resigned from his post and fled the province in fear of arrest over human trafficking charges lodged against him five years ago.

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location on Sunday, former Pate commune chief Song Yen—who was scheduled to be inaugurated Monday—said he fled Ratanakkiri more than a week ago after receiving a tip that a warrant was to be issued for his arrest.

“The police caused a lot of trouble against me,” he said, adding that he had been called to the pro­vincial court for questioning over the trafficking charges on March 13, weeks ahead of the April 1 commune elections.

Provincial court Investigating Judge An Samnang, who has re­cently been assigned to take over the five-year-old case, said Song Yen was accused in 2002 of attemp­t­ing to disguise local ethnic minority villagers as Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam. Song Yen is accused of perpetrating the scam in exchange for money while he was working as a translator for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, An Samnang said.

Song Yen was charged in 2002 with three alleged crimes: human trafficking, cheating and incitement, An Samnang added.

Yar Narin, the provincial court’s director, said that no warrant has yet been issued for Song Yen’s arrest.

“The investigating judge is investigating,” he added.

Song Yen on Monday denied the charges against him, saying that during his six-month stint as a translator for UNHCR in 2002, he had only helped real asylum seekers.

The SRP issued a statement Fri­day denying the 2002 charges against Song Yen and calling the renewed investigation “unjust.”

SRP lawmaker Sok Pheng said Sun­day that revisiting the case is political and “intended to intimidate Sam Rainsy Party activists.”

UNHCR spokeswoman Inge Stur­ken­boom said that the UNHCR, which closed its Ratanak­kiri offices in 2004 at the request of the government, has no record showing that Song Yen was a UNHCR staff member.

However, it is “very well possible that [Song Yen] worked with UNHCR for a short period” as an interpreter, she said, adding that the UNHCR is attempting to contact people who may be able to confirm his tenure with the UN agency.

Sturkenboom said she was un­aware of trafficking allegations ever being made against UN­HCR staff or temporary hires. She added that the UNHCR is following Song Yen’s case closely.


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