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Friday, December 22, 2006

Cambodia authorities urged to investigate traffic accident involving radio journalist

Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
22 December 2006

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned that Cambodian authorities are not investigating an apparent traffic accident that has left a journalist of Radio Free Asia, Sok Serei, in critical condition.

Information from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Alliance of Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC) suggests that the "accident" could be a premeditated hit-and-run over Sok's work in the past months as the maverick reporter had been highlighting civil society's criticisms of the government and exposing corruption. One case involved a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Rural Development.

On 14 December 2006, at around 4:45 p.m. (local time), Sok was riding his motorcycle after picking up his eight-year-old daughter from school when his motorcycle was knocked down by a car door opening. Sok sustained serious head injury from the fall, while his daughter suffered a lesser but still significant head injury.
According to witnesses, the two men in the car - a Toyota pick-up truck bearing a licence plate of Koh Kong Province - showed no concern for Sok or his daughter and drove off as soon as the crowd that had gathered cleared the way. No witness knew the two men.

The apparent accident left Sok in a coma for one day. His condition has improved but is still critical, while his daughter is now stabilised.
Witnesses noted down the number of the licence plate, which is known to AFEC.
A coalition of 28 non-governmental organisations, labour unions and other associations working to promote freedom of expression in Cambodia, AFEC has called on the government to investigate the suspicious accident.

However, police are reluctant to investigate the case, treating it as an accident.
AFEC said there were many ways such an accident could be staged. It also discounted as "almost zero" the probability of an accident involving a vehicle from Koh Kong - which borders Thailand in the southwest, far away from Phnom Penh, and has extremely poor road conditions at this time of the year - striking one of the "few brave independent radio reporters" of influence. Read more!

Cambodia dismisses Finland's appeal for fair trial for detained former police chief

The Associated Press
Friday, December 22, 2006

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia : Cambodia's government on Friday dismissed Finland's appeal for a full investigation and fair trial for an ex-police chief, jailed for orchestrating a murder after four months on the run.Heng Peo is currently serving his 18-year jail sentence for masterminding the murder of a judge in April 2003.He was deported from Malaysia on Thursday, despite his repeated claims that he was wrongly accused.

In a statement Thursday, Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja appealed "to the Cambodian authorities to carry out a full investigation into the charges against former police chief Heng Peo ... and to guarantee him a fair trial."

Khieu Thavika, a spokesman for Cambodia's Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing Friday that Tuomioja's appeal was unnecessary. He said the Cambodian court had already conducted a complete investigation before convicting Heng Peo of orchestrating the murder.
"Finland ought not be too concerned about this," Khieu Thavika said. "Heng Peo is not a case for political asylum. He is a criminal."

Heng Peo first fled to Singapore in July before he was arrested for overstaying his visa. Singapore authorities later arrested him and handed him over to Malaysia, where he was detained for a similar offense.
Earlier this month, Finland granted him a visa to travel there due to fears that he might face rights violations if deported to Cambodia. The visa does not allow him to travel elsewhere in the European Union.But Heng Peo lost his bid for asylum in Finland Thursday, when Malaysia's Appeals Court overturned an earlier High Court ruling that ordered his deportation to Singapore. He had hoped to travel from Singapore to safety in Finland.

Heng Peo was flown to Cambodia just after the hearing, and was sent to prison to begin serving his sentence.Heng Peo was the police chief in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, until 2005, when he was promoted to become an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen. He also served as an undersecretary in the Interior Ministry.

He is also accused of links to the killing of a Singaporean man in Cambodia, and to failed murder attempts against a newspaper publisher, an electricity authority official and the national military police chief. Read more!