U.N., Government Reports Cite Killings by Cambodian Military Officials
A Cambodian military network that terrorized political opponents during last year's U.N.-supervised election campaign has continued to murder, kidnap, extort and commit a variety of atrocities under the country's new coalition leadership, according to investigations by the Cambodian government, the United Nations and human rights organizations.
Confidential U.N. and government documents charge that senior military officials in western Cambodia, including the commanders of elite intelligence units, have set up secret detention centers, tortured and killed prisoners who were held without charge, engaged in criminal rackets and practiced cannibalism.
The detention centers were ordered closed two years ago by a U.N. peacekeeping and administrative mission, but they have continued to operate as part of a network that has turned increasingly from political repression to criminal money-making activities, the documents said.
In one facility, at least 35 persons have been executed since August 1993, according to the U.N. Center for Human Rights based in the capital, Phnom Penh.
Soldiers involved in the network routinely ate parts of the bodies of executed prisoners and forced other captives to clear mines, a confidential May 10 report compiled by the U.N. center said.
Although the U.N. center's findings have been largely confirmed by other human rights groups and by the government's Military Prosecutor's Office, the coalition government has declined to press charges. Instead, it has denied that two detention facilities exist here and asserted that there is "no witness or evidence to confirm" the execution of at least 35 people.
Human rights investigators said the network has curtailed its abuses lately amid U.N. and government inquiries. They said at least two persons are still illegally detained at a facility at Chheu Kmau, about 20 miles northeast of this western provincial capital. Another detention site, a room at the Battambang provincial military headquarters, apparently is no longer in use, investigators said.
Most of the implicated senior officers continue to control military intelligence operations in key western provinces and have even been promoted.
The same units and leaders were involved in the killings of numerous political opposition party workers in 1992 and 1993, according to confidential reports of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia, or UNTAC, as the former peacekeeping mission is known. Since then, the units have also killed suspected petty criminals and agents who fell from favor, investigators said.
The accused officers belonged to the army of Cambodia's former communist government, which lost the U.N.-supervised elections in May last year. The army was reconstituted as the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, but large parts of it remain intact under the old leadership.
In its May 10 report, the U.N. center said it had "investigated and documented a series of murders and other criminal activities attributed to a military intelligence unit designated S-91. The investigation established beyond a reasonable doubt that several of the highest military intelligence officers in the province, including the leadership of the agency, were directly responsible for these murders."
In August 1993, an UNTAC report said that despite a U.N. operation to close a secret S-91 detention center a year earlier, the unit "once again uses the same building for interrogation and torture, continues to have the same leadership and continues to conduct illegal activities including abduction, torture and summary killing."
U.N. investigators reported that in August 1992, the chief of S-91, Gen. Toan Saveth, ordered the execution of three former antigovernment guerrillas after learning that UNTAC was going to visit the secret prison in which they were held.
Saveth, the regional military intelligence chief for Battambang and two neighboring provinces, was arrested recently after an unrelated incident in which he shot at police who tried to stop him at a checkpoint.
Other officers implicated in human rights violations by U.N. and other reports include Saveth's deputy, the chief of staff of the Fifth Military Region and the head of the region's Special Intelligence Battalion.
The U.N. report, which has been distributed to senior Cambodian government leaders, said investigations had established the officers' "direct responsibility in these illegal detentions and murders." It said top political, military and police authorities in the province knew of these activities but made no real effort to stop them.
The royalist party Funcinpec won the 1993 election in Battambang, but the coalition arrangement allowed the former ruling People's Party to keep control of the province. The officials who kept posts include the controversial governor, Ung Sami, a nephew of powerful People's Party chairman Chea Sim.
The U.N. Human Rights Center described the Chheu Kmau detention site, at which it documented 35 killings, as merely a "discovered island in the archipelago of criminal activities" in the province. It said military personnel were using their "wide and uncontrolled powers" to kidnap, rob and execute prosperous traders in addition to real or suspected Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
Although the government denies the existence of the detention centers, the Military Prosecutor's Office had confirmed in a confidential report the S-91 unit's involvement in abductions, executions and cannibalism and asked the Defense Ministry to "control and destroy immediately these two secret camps."
U.N. and human rights sources called the government's report a "coverup" that reflected its anxiety to avoid undermining requests for military assistance from foreign countries, notably the United States, Australia and France.
According to the U.N. Center for Human Rights, several eyewitnesses said military personnel at Chheu Kmau regularly cooked and ate the livers of executed prisoners.