As he begins his work as national police chief, Gen. Neth
Savoeun will face a pile of open cases that his predecessor was accused of
ignoring, impeding or perpetrating. Rights workers Wednesday wondered whether
the new chief would make progress on any of them.
The former police chief, Hok Lundy, who died in a helicopter
crash Sunday, failed to solve a number of high-profile cases that pained the
nation: extrajudicial killings in the July 1997 coup, a grenade attack on
opposition demonstrators that killed 16 in March 1997, and the murders of actress Piseth Pilika, Funcinpec lawmaker Om
Rasady and opposition journalist Khim Sambor.
Hok Lundy, a powerful Cambodian People’s Party
official close to Prime Minster Hun Sen, was routinely accused of
collaboration in most of the cases. His death also left two men in prison widely
considered innocent in the 2004 murder of labor leader Chea Vichea.
Rights workers were split on whether a police force under
Neth Savoeun, who was a deputy of Hok Lundy and is married to a niece of Hun
Sen, would be able to solve any of the cases.
“I don’t believe the appointment of Neth Savoeun as new
national police chief will solve the crimes that happened in recent years,” Ou
Vireak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said.
Even if Neth Savoeun had a will to investigate them, Ou Vireak said, he could face incarceration like Heng Pov. The former Phnom Penh police chief fingered Hok Lundy for a litany of crimes after Heng Pov fled the country in 2006, only to be extradited and imprisoned.
“When Heng Pov knew of these crimes, the government arrested
him and put him in jail,” Ou Vireak said.
Heng Pov is now serving more than 50 years in a Cambodian
prison and faces yet more charges for his alleged involvement in crimes
while he was city chief under Hok Lundy.
Brad Adams, Asia director
for Human Rights Watch, doubted Neth Savoeun would make major changes to the
“He would almost certainly continue to politicize the work
of the police and tighten Hun Sen’s personalized control over the national
Am Sam Art, an investigator for the rights group Licadho,
said he believed the appointment could lead to breakthroughs in all the serious
“I believe Neth Savoeun will reform the national police
force to have a good reputation, not like Hok Lundy,” he said. “That’s why he should do
everything in the interest of the people.”
Chea Mony, brother of slain union worker Chea Vichea and
president of the Free Trade Union, said he hoped Neth Savoeun would find
“justice” in that case. Two men believed innocent, Born Samnang and Sok
Samoeun, are serving 20-year prison sentences for the murder.
“I think Neth Savoeun could find the real killers involved
in the murder of my brother,” Chea Mony said. “We are ready to cooperate with
him and give him the evidence if the police force needs the local NGOs to
Vorn Phonn, 63, father of Sok Samoeun, appealed to Neth
Savoeun to reexamine the case.
“I request to the replacement of Hok Lundy to urge the
Supreme Court to judge the cases of my son and nephew Born Samnang,” he said. “I
filed a complaint in May 2007, and until now it has been more than a year, so I
hope Neth Savoeun can be able to push the judicial process.”
Gen. Neth Savoeun could not be reached for comment
Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry,
said, “Those cases have not been closed by the Ministry of Interior.”
“We will be investigating those crimes to find justice for
the people, for the victims,” he said.