UN to Call for Inquiry into Cambodian Capital Fighting

Published November 26th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The new United Nations human rights envoy to Cambodia said Sunday he would call on the government to hold an inquiry into last week's violence in the capital in which eight people died, and urged authorities to treat fairly suspected rebels who have been captured. 

Peter Leuprecht told reporters the fighting -- the worst in Phnom Penh since the violent 1997 ouster of Prince Norodom Ranariddh by Prime Minister Hun Sen -- would be high on his agenda. 

"As far as recent events are concerned, I will of course be discussing this with officials," he said. 

"I will certainly ask for a serious inquiry and I hope that even in such a situation basic human rights will be respected." 

At least 68 people have been arrested in a citywide mop-up operation in the wake of the assault on government buildings and an army barracks in the early hours of Friday morning. 

Cambodian authorities have blamed the attack on an anti-communist rebel group known as the Cambodian Freedom Fighters and labeled them as "armed terrorists." 

Opposition leader and fierce government critic Sam Rainsy has however alleged the violence was "orchestrated" in an effort to divert attention from the country's real problems, such as poverty and human rights violations. 

Like the better-known Free Khmer movement, the Cambodia Freedom Fighters claim the government is a Vietnamese puppet regime, left over from a decade of occupation in the 1980s.  

The government here usually denies the existence of both groups labeling them "bandits" instead. 

Earlier this year local human rights groups accused the military of massacring a large number of Free Khmer members in Kratie province northeast of the capital. The government denied the massacre but said a number of "bandits" had been shot dead in confrontations with soldiers. 

Leuprecht is expected to discuss those events with Cambodian authorities. He said rebel and terrorist activities were a problem faced not only by Cambodia. 

"I think what the state should never do is use the same methods as terrorists." 

Leuprecht said he had requested a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, but that one had yet to be confirmed. 

Hun Sen on Saturday slapped a bounty on the heads of rebel leaders involved in the attack and urged the United States to extradite rebel leader Chhun Yasith whom he blames for masterminding the bloody raid. 

Returning from Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Singapore, Hun Sen offered amnesties to rank-and-file rebels and rewards of 500 dollars for those who brought in their leaders. 

Leuprecht said Sunday he hoped to discuss with Cambodian authorities plans to set up a tribunal for former leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime which the government agreed on with the UN earlier this year. 

That plan has become bogged down awaiting debate in parliament. 

"We all know that an agreement has been reached between the UN and the government. The question is whether and when this agreement will be implemented." 

Leuprecht, an Austrian law professor, replaces Thomas Hammarberg of Sweden as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's human rights special representative to Cambodia. 

Hammarberg earned the ire of Cambodian authorities for his vocal criticism of the government's human rights record, particularly in the run-up to elections in 1998 won by Hun Sen -- PHNOM PENH (AFP)  




© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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