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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cambodia says China requested arrest of Frenchman

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—Cambodia's government said Wednesday that China had asked it to arrest a Frenchman for possible involvement in a murder linked to one of China's biggest political scandals in years. But authorities said they would not extradite him unless China provides more evidence.  

Cambodian authorities on Tuesday acknowledged they had arrested Patrick Devillers, but declined to say why. On Wednesday, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said China had requested Devillers' arrest because of possible involvement in the murder in China last November of British businessman Neil Heywood.
 
Kanharith gave no details of Devillers' alleged involvement, however, and said Cambodia was studying whether to extradite him.

Heywood had close ties to Bo Xilai, a Chinese political high-flier who was ousted as Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing. But those ties had soured and Heywood's death led to the end of Bo's career.  

Bo's fall came after his former police chief and longtime aide fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in Heywood's death. Bo was removed as Chongqing party secretary on March 15 and was suspended as a Politburo member amid questions over whether he tried to quash an investigation of his wife and a household employee over the Briton's death.
 
Though authorities in China initially said Heywood died from either excess drinking or a heart attack, they have since named Gu as a suspect. She faces criminal charges.

News reports have said that Devillers was closely linked to Bo, Gu and Heywood.
 
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for Cambodia's Interior Ministry, also said China had asked Cambodia to arrest Devillers for possible involvement in Heywood's death.
 
But he said China must give more evidence before Cambodia will extradite him.
 
"We need more evidence, clear information from China, before we are going to make a decision," Khieu Sopheak said. "If there is no clear evidence from China, Devillers will be set free."
 
He said Cambodia could hold Devillers for up to 60 days before deciding whether to extradite him.
 
Eric Bosc, deputy to the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that Devillers was arrested June 13 and that the reason remains unclear.
 
Kanharith said Devillers was living openly in Cambodia and was not in hiding. Devillers, an architect, had helped Bo rebuild the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian when Bo was the city's mayor in the 1990s, The New York Times reported last month.
 
The Frenchman and Gu were partners in setting up a company in Britain in 2000 to select European architects for Chinese projects and both gave the same address of an apartment in the English city of Bournemouth, the newspaper said.
 
It cited an unidentified friend of Devillers as saying the architect left China in 2005 and has been living in Cambodia more or less continuously for about six years.
 
China has considerable influence in Cambodia, having provided millions of dollars in aid over the past decade.
 
In 2009, Cambodia deported 20 members of the Uighur ethnic minority group who said they were fleeing ethnic violence in China's far west and wanted asylum.
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Cambodian court frees 13 women who were jailed for protesting eviction from their homes

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Cambodian appeals court Wednesday ordered the release of 13 women who had been sentenced to 2½ years in prison for protesting their eviction from their homes without adequate compensation, in a case that was widely seen as an example of injustice.

The women cheered in the courtroom, their supporters applauded and observers from foreign embassies, including the United States, smiled in the audience after the judge’s ruling. Local and foreign human rights groups hailed the women’s freedom, but said the court also should have overturned their guilty verdicts.

“Finally, justice has been done for us,” defendant Heng Mom said tearfully. “From now on I can see my children and live with them.”

The women had lived in Phnom Penh’s Boueng Kak lake area, which the government awarded to a Chinese company for commercial development, including a hotel, office buildings and luxury housing. Residents complained that they were not given the new land titles they had been promised by the government.

Their joy Wednesday was marred by a clash outside the court between police and the women’s supporters, a reminder of the evictees’ prolonged struggle against a government with little tolerance for dissent.

About 200 human rights activists and relatives of the women tried to gather near the court to demonstrate their support, but clashed with about 300 police and military police who were deployed to block them. Human rights groups said at least a dozen people were hurt.

Judge Seng Sivutha upheld the convictions of the women for aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation of land, for which each had been sentenced to 2½ years. They had been arrested when they symbolically tried to rebuild their homes on land where their old houses had been demolished by developers in 2010.

The judge reduced their sentences to time served of one month and three days and freed them because he said they had children to take care of and had little knowledge of the law. He also said that testimony indicated that they did not resist arrest. They were to be freed later Wednesday after being processed out of prison.

Concern has risen in Cambodia over land grabbing, which sometimes involves corruption and the use of deadly force in carrying out evictions.

The human rights group Amnesty International said the appeals court “should have overturned the women’s convictions, not simply suspended the remainder of their sentences and allowed the convictions to stand.” The group earlier said the original trial was unfair because lawyers were not given sufficient time to prepare and not given access to evidence or witnesses.

A statement issued jointly by 13 Cambodian rights organizations also welcomed the women’s release while regretting that their convictions were upheld.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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