Thursday, November 13, 2008

High drama in Cambodia

General Hok Lundy, Cambodia’s notorious police chief and an ally of the country’s prime minister Hun Sen, has just died in a helicopter crash. The circumstances of the crash may be suspicious, but then much about Hok Lundy was suspicious. Of many outstanding accusations against him, one is that he ordered the killing of Piseth Pilika, a famous dancer and actress, who had recently finished an adulterous affair with Hun Sen. Pilika kept a diary, and this shows, astonishingly, that at the time of her murder, she considered Hok Lundy a friend. Other evidence suggests that, in fact, she had had an affair with him earlier and that he had introduced her to Hun Sen!

Hok Lundy died on 9 November when his helicopter crashed on the way to Svay Rieng, his home province. The deputy commander of the Cambodian infantry, Sok Saem, and two pilots also died. Because Hok Lundy had many enemies there has been widespread speculation that the crash might not have been an accident, and the government has promised a full investigation.

Hok Lundy’s death has not been widely reported in the British or American press. However, The Guardian website does have an obituary. This states that Hok Lundy first rose to prominence as governor of Phnom Penh in 1990 (although Wikipedia says he was governor of Svay Rieng province). In 1994, Hun Sen appointed him national police chief, reporting directly to him (not to his nominal boss, the interior minister). Then, in 1997, after a bloody power struggle between partners in the coalition government, Hok Lundy played a significant role in capturing and executing royalist generals.

The Guardian obituary goes on to explain that Hok Lundy was also responsible in 2003 for allowing anti-Thai protestors to run riot in the capital, attacking Thai-owned properties, and for then persuading Hun Sen to sack the capital’s popular governor as a scapegoat. ‘That Hun Sen sided with his police chief was no surprise,’ it says, ‘as Hok Lundy had already married his daughter off to one of Hun Sen’s sons’.

One of the most heinous crimes to which Hok Lundy was linked was the murder of the Cambodian dancer and actress, Piseth Pilika. Born in 1965, both her parents died during the Khmer Rouge regime, and she was brought up by an uncle. Her aunt was a teacher at the University of Fine Arts and encouraged her to study traditional Cambodian dance there. As she became an increasingly popular performer, so she moved into acting, and starred in a successful movie Sromorl Anthakal (Shadow of Darkness). But in July 1999, she was gunned down in the street, and died a week later. Some 10,000 people filed past her body at the University, one of the largest such ceremonies in modern Cambodian history.

Reports of her shooting, death and funeral in Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper, can be found on the website. At the time, there were rumours that the killing might have been ordered by ‘the jealous wife’ of a ‘high-level government official’. The rumours soon hardened to name the official as no less a person than the prime minister Hun Sen, and that it was his wife, Bun Rany, who may have hired the hitmen to kill Pilika. Further twists to this story were subsequently uncovered by revelations in Pilika’s own diary, and through information given to the French news magazine L’Express by Heng Pov, a former Phnom Penh police commissioner.

Pilika’s diary is available online, also at - in Khmer. However, her very last entry has been translated into English. It identifies Hun Sen as her lover, Bun Rany as her enemy, and Hok Lundy as a friend.

10 May 1999
‘Mr Hok Lundy, Director-General of the National Police, had asked me to go to meet with him because he had something to tell me. He sent two bodyguards to fetch me. I asked my younger sister to accompany and we went together. I was at the same time afraid and happy because I thought there might be a message for me from Sen. I met with Hok Lundy at Kien Svay, at a restaurant situated in a quiet place. He told me to go and hide somewhere for a while because Mrs Bun Rany Hun Sen was very angry against me and was plotting to kill me. I was very afraid but tried not to show my feeling. I gritted my teeth but could not repress tears. I had not imagined somebody would fool me so terribly. I am so disappointed because I have never sold my body to Samdech Hun Sen. We loved each other like husband and wife, so I thought. I realise how naive I have been in believing his words. I have never been fooled like that. This is my first lesson, I have learnt to know about deceitful people. I don’t know whether they would spare my life or sentence me to death because they rule over the country. Only God can help me. My only response to and shield against them are goodness and righteousness.’

In October 1999, L’Express published other extracts from Pilika’s diary (available on the KI Media website) chronicling her secret relationship with the prime minister (although initially she did not even write his name in the diary). Here are three entries:

‘Late at night, . . . called me over the phone. I was very happy, at the same time apprehended and overjoyed, I could barely talk. Then nothing. Next, he called me again. This time, I only felt the joy because he thought about me; his words were worthy of respect and love . . . Our first rendez-vous took place on August 18, 1998, at 8:00 o’clock, in the house behind the Botum pagoda. I decided to ask for divorce, because I thought that I could not remain married, even if the new one would abandon me. . . My relation with . . . became very close.’

‘My relations with Samdech Hun Sen are excellent. . . On January 31, 1999, slightly before 10:00 PM, he came to the new house I just bought in Takhmao. Then he visited me again at night. . . His words were so tender, I did not dare believe it . . .’

‘When his wife learnt about relation, and after we stopped talking to each other over the phone, my heart broke. . . On Sunday, April 11, 1999, Samdech Hun Sen called me one last time. He asked me not to see him again, and to deny that anything ever happened between us . . . I could not forget him, I remained prostrated for hours. . . wrote poems which came from the bottom of my soul, I cried every day, and my heart was filled with bitterness.’

Years later, in 2006, L’Express published a startling interview (reproduced in English on Asia Finest Discussion Forum) with Heng Pov, a former police commissioner and an advisor to Hun Sen, who had taken refuge in France. He claimed that the government was responsible for many killings over the previous ten years, including that of Pilika. As a result of the revelations, the Asian Human Rights Commission put out a statement which provides a useful summary of the claims. This is what it said with regard to ‘the shooting of screen idol Piseth Pilika on 6 July 1999, which led to her death’:

‘Piseth Pilika is widely known to have had an affair with Hun Sen. Heng Pov claims that Hok Lundy had had an affair with her first and then introduced her to Hun Sen, whose wife blamed Hok Lundy for matchmaking her husband with the actress. He says that Hok Lundy made amends by promising to ‘separate’ Piseth Pilika from Hun Sen, and that the killer was one of Hok Lundy’s bodyguards.’

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