Defence Ministry hits back at rights report

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Generals Chap Pheakdey and Pol Saroeun. KT/Mai Vireak

Human Rights Watch yesterday issued a scathing report alleging that 12 army and police leaders close to Prime Minister Hun Sen have committed serious human rights violations.

The report drew the ire of the Defence Ministry and government, which issued a retort saying that it was aimed at provoking incitement, and discrediting the 12 generals.

In its 213-page report released yesterday, HRW accused 12 top RCAF officers and police officials, including RCAF commander-in-chief General Pol Saroeun and National Police chief General Neth Savoeun, of committing human rights violations.

It alleged that Mr Hun Sen was orchestrating repression against his opponents ahead of the upcoming national election on July 29.

The ten others included Chap Pheakdey, commander of Paratrooper Brigade 911, military police commander General Sao Sokha, director-general of the immigration department General Sok Phal and several other military region commanders and deputy national police chiefs.

“These 12 men are the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime,” the report said. “Each is politically and personally close to Hun Sen and helps ensure that the army, gendarmerie, and police perform a political role in guaranteeing his and the CPP’s continued rule.”

“Most of the 12 have been implicated in the use of unnecessary, excessive, and sometimes lethal force against protests over an unfree and unfair election, land confiscations, labour abuses, and low wages,” it added.

General Sok Phal. KT/Mai Vireak

Brad Adams, director of Asia Human Rights Watch, said that throughout their careers, the generals have served in government positions paying modest official salaries, but amassed great wealth.

“The importance of Cambodia’s generals has become even more apparent ahead of July’s elections as they engage in crackdowns against journalists, political opponents, and anti-government protesters – and openly campaign for Hun Sen,” Mr Adams said.

The Defence Ministry yesterday condemned the report, saying that it was unfounded and infringed on Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“The Defence Ministry flatly dismisses an allegation created by Human Rights Watch,” a ministry statement said. “The fabricated report violates the Kingdom’s sovereignty, independence and rule of law to serve some foreigners and a group of traitors who attempt to create a colour revolution to undermine peace and the happiness of Cambodian people.”

Gen Saroeun and his deputy General Kun Kim recently stepped down from their military positions to stand as CPP lawmaker candidates in July’s poll.

Most of the officials accused could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, Gen Phal rejected the allegations outright and said the report intended to discredit the armed forces.

“For me, I don’t care about this report because they don’t know me,” Gen Phal said. “I think they have their own purpose to make up this report, but we don’t care about it because we do our jobs correctly.”

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that Human Rights Watch was politically oriented organisation and biased.

“In addition to its provocative and inciting report, they have held a number of forums to urge Khmers, Khmericans and American lawmakers to revolt against Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Government of Cambodia,” Mr Siphan said in a Facebook post.

The United States on June 12 sanctioned General Hing Bun Heang, commander of Mr Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit, for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana should order a prosecutor to investigate the abuses alleged by HRW.

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