Hundreds of Cambodia's top officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, attended a wake for Hok Lundy Monday morning, following a deadly helicopter crash that is under investigation.
Hok Lundy, a close associate of Hun Sen and the nation's top police official, died when his helicopter crashed in Rumduol district, Svay Rieng province, late Sunday night.
Maligned by critics as a brutal police commander high among the ranks of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Hok Lundy had been accused by rights groups of serious violations, including murder and torture, and in 2006 was denied US entry on suspicion of involvement of human trafficking. He rejected all charges made against him.
His lieutenant, police Lt. Gen. Neth Savoun, was named acting national police chief Monday.
A separate ceremony for Lt. Gen. Sok Sa Em, deputy commander of RCAF infantry, and two pilots, Tep Setha, 44, and Horn Ratha, 46, was held at Wat Lanka.
"I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the death of Gen. Hok Lundy," said Lt. Gen. Sok Phal, deputy national police chief. "We've lost a high-ranking official in the government…. Right now we've sent a team of investigators to the crash site."
He declined to speculate on the cause of the crash. Aviation officials have said poor weather was likely a factor.
Hok Lundy's personal driver for more than 20 years, Chan Pov, told VOA Khmer Monday that before the helicopter crash the general had dined with businessmen Kith Meng and Meng Sreang in Phnom Penh.
Chan Pov said his boss decided to visit Svay Rieng "at the last minute," for undisclosed reasons. Chan Pov drove Hok Lundy to the military airbase adjacent to Phnom Penh International Airport, where he watched him board a Sokha Airlines helicopter.
Prior to takeoff, the pilots looked to the sky, where stars were visible, and said a flight to Svay Rieng would be no problem, Chan Pov said. Fifteen minutes after the helicopter took off, the driver received a call from Sokha Airlines's office warning of heavy rain over Svay Rieng. By then, Hok Lundy could not be reached by phone, Chan Pov said.
The driver was later able to reach one of the pilots, who told him they would arrive in Svay Rieng "in seven minutes." Five minutes later, around 7:40 pm, he could not reach the pilots either. Five minutes after that, Phnom Penh International's tower reported the helicopter had crashed.
Svay Rieng Governor Cheang Am said witnesses around the crash site reported hearing "roaring from the engine" over Doung Sar village, in Rumduol district. The helicopter crashed 15 kilometers outside the village.
Witnesses told the governor the helicopter glanced off a small hillside, as flames burned from its tail, before it crashed. Hok Lundy's body was found 5 meters from the wreckage, Cheang Am said.
Hok Lundy, who was born in 1950 in the same district where he died, rose to power through the 1980s and became a central committee member of the CPP in 1997, following his promotion to national police chief in 1994.
Human Rights Watch accused him of collaboration in the deadly 1997 grenade attack on opposition protesters, extrajudicial killings in the 1997 CPP putsch and the trafficking of drugs and prostitutes. He was awarded a medal by the FBI for counterterrorism in 2006 and visited top Bureau officials in Washington in 2007.
On Monday afternoon Hun Sen, who has so far withheld public comment on Hok Lundy's death, set a wreath of flowers next to general's body, which was lying in state, covered by a red cloth, on the floor of his Phnom Penh villa.
Hok Lundy is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, including Hok Chindavy, who is married to Hun Sen's son, Hun Manit. Hok Lundy will be buried on Saturday in his hometown.