Student Among Two Corpses Unearthed

Reports Abound of Missing Protesters

Two corpses—one belonging to a 19-year-old student—were un­earthed Thursday from shallow graves north of Pochentong Road.

Authorities claimed the two young men had been killed early Wednesday afternoon because they were robbers fleeing the scene of a crime. But rights workers suspected that the brutal killings—one victim was shot through both eyes—could be connected to this week’s crackdown on protesters.

“I think they were arrested yesterday [Wed­nes­day] and brought here” to be kil­led, said one UN rights worker on the scene.

Adhoc, a lo­cal human rights group, stated it even more strongly, claiming in a statement late Thursday afternoon that government security forces had arrested the two and “death squads” had killed them in front of a group of villagers. Adhoc was tipped off to the bodies early Thursday, and called the UN for help.

The discoveries followed re­ports of missing students. Rights workers were scrambling well into the night Thursday to check into the many more rumors of missing, beaten and dead demonstrators, but no additional bodies were found. Adhoc said more than a half dozen demonstrators were missing, including monks.

The two corpses were in the countryside, in the Khmuonh commune of Russei Keo district, about 14 km from the center of Phnom Penh. The corpses were in shallow graves, and buried under mounds of dirt. Pools of blood and bullet casings from AK-47s were on the dirt and under a tree nearby.

One of the bodies was identified as Sath Sopheaktra, a 19-year-old student at Baktok High School near Olympic Stadium. The back of his head had been bashed in, his skull fractured into pieces, indicating he was severely beaten, the rights worker said as she examined him.

The student also had a bullet wound in the hip, a large bruise near the groin area, and a bullet wound in his groin.

The other male, perhaps a bit older judging by a receding hairline, couldn’t be identified as of late Thursday afternoon. He had been shot at least eight times from behind and at least five times in the face.

“They’ve destroyed his face,” said a rights worker as she examined the second body early Thursday afternoon. When ex­amining the obliterated eyeballs, she added: “I think they have shot into the two eyes.”

Besides shooting into the eyes, at least three bullets had been fired near the left side of his mouth, the examiner said.

Witnesses told rights workers that police had shot him from behind, and he had started crawling and waving for help, when police came back and finished the job by firing into his face.

The man’s left hand also was mangled by gunshot wounds. The medical examiner theorized that the victim had raised his hand to try to defend himself or cover his face.

Both bodies were naked ex­cept for underwear.

Chhay Sambath, a military police official for the district, said Thursday the two victims were part of a gang of four who had stolen two motorcycles and were trying to flee from the police.

He said police chased and killed two, while the other two escaped. The military policeman said the prosecutor told the police to keep the bodies at the site.

But the father of Sath So­pheaktra said that if anything his son was a robbery victim, not a robber. He said villagers told him that his son was taken by car to the spot where he was killed.

The father would identify himself only as the chief of the platoon police for the Ministry of Interior. He said his son had disappeared on Wednesday, but said he didn’t believe he had joined protesters in Phnom Penh.

“I banned him from the dem­onstration,” the father said. “I told him many times, ‘Don’t join the demonstration.’” A policeman was standing nearby when the father made his statement to the reporter.

Another witness, Bun Rithy, also reported that vehicles drove up to the spot shortly before the shooting began. But he said he didn’t see the actual shooting, only heard the gunshots. Other villagers seemed to reluctant to talk to the press; many police were standing nearby when the first body was unearthed.

The Adhoc rights investigator said Thursday afternoon that he just couldn’t buy the police’s version of events. “If they were robbers, why did the police kill them? They should have arrested them and send them to court,” he said. “The case looks like it was to threaten the demonstrators, to scare them to stop.”

 

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