What remained after the coup was a ruthless - and ongoing - pattern of extrajudicial executions, aimed at rooting out Ranariddh loyalists, and deterring criticism by the opposition press and local human rights activists. Since the coup, Human Rights Watch has gathered information about at least forty custodial killings by CPP forces.
Immediately after the coup, State Secretary for Information Khieu Kanharith announced that a military tribunal would issue arrest warrants by the following week for three FUNCINPEC officials who had already gone into hiding: Nhiek Bun Chhay, his senior security advisor, Gen. Serey Kosal, and Chao Sambath. Over the ensuing three days, however, CPP forces cast a much wider net, in which procedural concerns such as arrest warrants were entirely dispensed with.
Ho Sok was among the first targets. CPP soldiers arrested and then fatally shot Ho Sok on the night of July 7. Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak confirmed Ho Sok's arrest and slaying the following day, although he declined to identify the official's killers.16 Ho Sok was an outspoken critic of Hun Sen and in print interviews had implicitly accused the second prime minister of orchestrating the March 30 grenade attack on the KNP.17 At a July 10 news conference, his first since staging the coup, Hun Sen said he was "horrified" by Ho Sok's murder and had ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice.18 During a visit in early August by a delegation of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), Hun Sen stated that three generals had been suspended for failing to ensure Ho Sok's security.19 Human rights investigators in Phnom Penh report, however, that no arrests have been made.
Chao Sambath was found dead on July 9, a day after he was arrested while trying to flee the capital. A CPP spokesperson initially circulated a macabre and unlikely account of Chao Sambath's death which had the official committing suicide by biting off his own tongue. However, human rights sources in Phnom Penh reported that Chao Sambath had been arrested and summarily executed by members of Regiment 911, an elite commando unit trained and equipped by the Indonesian army.
CPP and FUNCINPEC sources independently confirmed to human rights investigators the killings of four other high-ranking FUNCINPEC officials between July 7 and 8: Gen. Kroch Yoeum, under-secretary of state for national defense; Gen. Ly Seng Hong, deputy chief of staff, General Staff of the Royal Cambodian Air Force; Gen. Sam Norin, deputy commander of the special military region (Phnom Penh); and Gen. Naen Bun Thon, director of the logistics and transportation department in the Ministry of National Defense.
Two FUNCINPEC commanders named on the CPP's original arrest list, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, survived by undertaking an arduous land journey to the royalist stronghold of O'Smach. Nhiek Bun Chhay publicly surfaced on July 25 and told visiting reporters that he would lead an armed struggle against the CPP from FUNCINPEC's narrow base in the country's northwest. Four of his bodyguards were less fortunate. CPP troops detained them on July 7 at Nhiek Bun Chhay's residence in Somnang Dop-pi, and then executed them. Their bodies, with their eyes gouged out, were reportedly displayed on a street for two days, along with the bodies of two other FUNCINPEC soldiers.
The bodies of four other men, including two security guards who worked for Chao Sambath, were found near a Phnom Penh pagoda on July 7. All four had been handcuffed and shot in the head.
Human rights investigators in Cambodia have since amassed an increasing amount of evidence that custodial killings of FUNCINPEC officials continue. Investigators on July 24 discovered the bodies of two men, believed to be have been killed in extrajudicial executions, about 100 kilometers southeast of Phnom Penh, near the Pich Nil pass. Two .38-caliber pistol slugs were found fifteen meters from the site, indicating that the men had been executed there, and then buried in the small ditch where their bodies were unearthed. According to one of the investigators, the men appeared to have been shot a few days before their bodies were discovered. In addition, local villagers toldhuman rights investigators that a truckload of detainees had been brought to the area shortly before, raising the possibility of other, undiscovered bodies in the area.
A week later, UNCHR staff exhumed a body - with a rope still tied around its neck - from a shallow grave near Tang Kasaing. Citing anonymous but corroborated sources, UNCHR staff identified the man as a bodyguard to Prince Ranariddh, and said he had been beaten and strangled on July 27, nearly three weeks after his arrest. The body of another FUNCINPEC official, Major Lak Ki, was discovered July 31 on a national highway.
16 Joe Cochrane and Saing Soenthrith, "Fears FUNCINPEC Death was `Execution,'" Cambodia Daily, July 9, 1997.
17 Jason Barbier and Chea Sotheacheath, "PM's Soldiers to be Queried," Phnom Penh Post, May 16-29, 1997.
18 Mark Baker, "Hands Off, Hun Sen Warns," Sydney Morning Herald, July 11, 1997.
19 Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), "Statement, Human Rights Mission to Cambodia," August 7, 1997. Details clarified in Human Rights Watch interview with a Phnom Penh-based human rights investigator, August 18, 1997.