Unseasonal Number of Bodies Wash Ashore

thma kor commune, Kandal province – The eddies on the east bank of the slow-moving Mekong River here generally sweep up driftwood, Styrofoam, coconut shells and river scum.

But since late last week, villagers say, the low waters of the river have been bringing in something more gruesome: corpses.

“It’s very strange that in one day I found two bodies,” said Kong Vuthy, 29, a fisherman in Koh Reah village, about 15 km southeast of Phnom Penh. “Usu­ally in one high-water season, I find only one or two.”

The sightings of corpses floating down the Mekong has be­come commonplace since Fri­day for the people living in the fishing villages along the great river’s banks. Following the government’s Sept 7 crackdown on pro-opposition demonstrations, the capital was rife with rumors about bodies floating down the river.

Villagers interviewed Thursday said they have heard the stories about the bodies. Many have seen them.

Amnesty International has said it fears the bodies are those of pro-opposition student demonstrators arrested by police since the crackdown. Some rights wor­kers and diplomats are privately saying the same thing: that particular police units are targeting de­m­onstration leaders. “They don’t take care, they want this to be visible,” a rights worker investigating the reports said Wednesday.

Government spokesmen cautioned that there is not enough evidence to connect the demonstrations to at least 18 corpses the UN said it has since inspected or confirmed through multiple witness accounts. At least two others were killed during street clashes.

Dom Vay, judicial police chief for Kandal province, was surprised Thursday when told of the villagers’ reports.“I’ve gotten only one report of a body…but right now I’ve ordered my police to follow up on information from the UN’s report of bodies floating,” he said in a telephone interview.

Those interviewed Thursday in three different villages along the eastern bank of the Mekong in Kandal’s Lvea Em district said they had not informed authorities of the bodies.

In Koh Reah village, Kong Vuthy said he didn’t tell police about the two bodies he saw Tuesday because “police don’t do any work anyway.”

Dom Vay acknowledged the villagers’ sentiments.

“I’m trying to order [my police] to get these reports in to me,” Dom Vay said.

In Thma Kor village, a few kilometers downstream, villagers said they didn’t report the three bodies they saw last Friday be­­cause they feared retribution from CPP-appointed police au­thorities.

“If we report it to police, maybe the police will say we support the demonstrators,” explained one 47-year-old woman, who declined to give her name.

Dom Vay said the single report he’s received contained only sketchy information of a male corpse that washed ashore in Lvea Sar commune, Lvea Em district, clothed in brown trousers.

Others bodies reported floating down the river by Thma Kor include, on Fri­day, a naked young man bearing signs of torture—his teeth and right ear were missing—and a gunshot wound in the chest; a young man wearing only monk’s undergarments who appeared to have suffered a blow to the back of the neck; and a man, in his mid-20s, wearing only brown trousers, a black belt and green underwear.

The latter corpse remained swirling in the eddy for two days before 18-year-old Buth Leang dragged it out into the middle of the river and let it loose.

“The bodies got stuck in the eddy because of the high winds on Friday,” one woman asserted.

The rights worker said he believes that corpses seen Friday in the area may already have floated beyond Cambodia’s borders to Vietnam.

And Thma Kor villager Teng An, 28, said he saw the naked corpse of a young male while he was pumping water from the river on Tuesday, but was not able to determine a likely cause of death.

“I was afraid to get too close,” he said.

Upstream, villagers in Koh Reah said they saw on Tuesday the bodies of a man, about 30 years old, wearing a white shirt and brown trousers and a female, about 22, wearing a brown bra and underwear. The male ap­peared to have been struck in the back of the head.

Fishermen there tied a rope around the bodies and dragged them out into the middle of the river where they let the bodies go.

Upstream in Wat Kasa village, about

7 km southeast of Phnom Penh, a moto-taxi driver said he saw a body on Wednesday floating downriver clothed in the white short-sleeve shirt and blue trousers typical of a student.

The appearance of bodies is even more suspicious, villagers say, because it is not yet the high-water season, when bodies tend to float further downriver from Phnom Penh without getting snagged by vegetation. Water along the Mekong on Thursday appeared to be about 2 meters below the top of the dirt banks.

At least one man, a 45-year-old Thma Kor farmer who said he feared police retribution if he was identified, extended sympathy for the dead.

“I take pity on the murdered because those people died de­manding democracy in Cam­bodia,” he said.

 

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