Exaggerated ‘Repression’

[In November 2000, a group of 20 or 30 armed men, calling themselves the “Cambodian Freedom Fighters”, attacked government buildings in Phnom Penh. Before they were captured, they had killed several people. Nearly five years later, the US government got around to arresting the organiser of the terrorist raid. This letter was sent to the Cambodia Daily in response to its report of the US arrest. From memory, it was not published.]

William Shaw and Prak Chan Thul (“CFF Leader Seized in US For 2000 Plot”, June 3) state: “After the [CFF November 2000] attack, Hun Sen jailed hundreds of critics with no apparent link to the CFF.”

In fact, there were not hundreds jailed, few if any of those jailed were critics of Hun Sen (except, of course, convinced CFF members), and most had clear links to the CFF.

The only documented statement about “hundreds” being involved is a December 6, 2000, press release of Human Rights Watch. This referred, not to people being jailed, but to “more than 200” being arrested for questioning—and then, in most cases, released.

For instance, HRW said that police in Sihanoukville on November 26 and 27 arrested 91 people at checkpoints and in guesthouses and karaoke bars; all had been released by November 30.

Sixty-five residents of the squatter community near the Phnom Penh railway station, from where the CFF band set out on November 24, were held overnight on November 28 for questioning, presumably as witnesses, not suspects. Twenty people were arrested in Pursat on November 27 and released the next day.

HRW said that “many of those arrested or detained” were affiliated with Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party, but the only instance it cited was the arrest in Pursat on November 25 of “three Funcinpec-affiliated police officers.”

David Kihara summarized subsequent events in the Cambodia Daily Weekend a year later. Within a day of the attack, 58 people had been arrested in Phnom Penh, 20 of whom were shortly released. In June, 29 of those in custody were tried and 27 convicted. None denied being connected with the CFF attack, although some said they had been tricked or forced into it.

Another 64 alleged CFF members were arrested in September 2001. The names of many had been found on the computer of Richard Kiri Kim, the leader of the attack. (That is not proof of guilt, but it is an apparent link.)

Funcinpec said that four of the 54 were its commune candidates or officials, and the Sam Rainsy Party said that two were commune-level SRP officials.

The 64 were tried in three groups in October, February and March. Of the first trial, Kihara wrote that some defendants “said CFF members forced them at gunpoint to carry weapons during the raid. Most … said they were merely poor farmers who came to the city after CFF members offered them jobs in Phnom Penh.”

A Funcinpec commune council candidate was among those convicted in February, and four members were convicted in the March trial. I have not been able to find any specifics on SRP members being defendants in any of the trials. Another case in Banteay Meanchey involving one Funcinpec member was reported due to be concluded in April 2002, but I have not been able to find any information about it.

Thus fewer than 100 people of any sort have been jailed in connection with the 2000 attack, most of whom admitted a CFF link, or considerably more. Aside from those who openly proclaimed themselves CFF members, none seem to have been known as “critics” of Hun Sen. Five or six Funcinpec members are among those jailed, but Funcinpec and the CPP at the time were coalition partners.

On the evidence, it would be incorrect even to say that “critics” were a significant proportion of the perhaps 150-200 people with no apparent link to the CFF who were detained for short periods for questioning.

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