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Monday, November 17, 2008

General Hok Lundy Was Widely Feared

General Hok Lundy, Cambodia's Notorious and Brutal Police Chief, He Was Widely Feared

By Tom Fawthrop
The Guardian, Wednesday November 12 2008

General Hok Lundy, Cambodia's notorious police chief and close ally of prime minister Hun Sen, has died at the age of 58 in a helicopter crash. He was travelling from the capital, Phnom Penh, to the south-eastern province of Svay Rieng. None of the helicopter's other occupants - General Sok Saem, deputy commander of the Cambodian infantry, the pilot and co-pilot - survived the crash.

A four-star general and member of the politburo of the ruling CPP (Cambodian People's party), Hok Lundy was a man who inspired fear not only in opposition ranks, but also in members of his own party. Born in Svay Rieng, he first rose to prominence as the governor of Phnom Penh in 1990. Four years later, Hun Sen appointed him national police chief, reporting directly to the prime minister. He never took orders from Sar Kheng, his nominal boss as minister for the interior.

In the aftermath of a bloody power struggle in 1997 between partners in the coalition government, many royalist generals were captured and killed in cold blood. Hok Lundy played a key part in these mopping-up operations and extrajudicial executions. A Funcinpec (royalist) party minister, Ho Sok, was detained at the interior ministry and shot dead by a police unit there. It is known that Sar Kheng had ordered the police to ensure Ho Sok's safety, but Hok Lundy chose to handle things his own way, according to high-ranking sources close to the minister.

This was later confirmed by Heng Pov, the former Phnom Penh police chief, after he fell out with Hok Lundy. While he was on the run from criminal charges stacked against him, Heng Pov accused Cambodia's police supremo and security chief not only of murdering Ho Sok, but also the union leader Chea Vichea and film star Piseth Pilika, in revelations to the French magazine L'Express.

Diplomats in Phnom Penh routinely referred to Hok Lundy as a "thug". This reputation was further enhanced by his role in the burning of the Thai embassy in January 2003. The police chief, who was normally no fan of demonstrators, had permitted anti-Thai protestors to run riot, attacking Thai-owned properties all over Phnom Penh. In the aftermath of this violence he persuaded the prime minister to sack the capital's popular governor, his arch-rival Chea Sophara, as a scapegoat.

That Hun Sen sided with his police chief was no surprise, as Hok Lundy had already married his daughter off to one of Hun Sen's sons, thus consolidating close family ties among Cambodia's clannish ruling elite.

Lundy was also implicated in drug trafficking, the return of refugees to countries where they faced persecution and human trafficking. Two US Drug Enforcement Agency officials and a former unnamed US ambassador to Cambodia confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the US government was aware of Hok Lundy's involvement in drug trafficking. In February 2006, the US State Department's human trafficking office specifically cited Hok Lundy's alleged involvement in human trafficking as grounds for denying him a visa. That decision was linked to a brothel raid in December 2004, after which Hok Lundy reportedly ordered the release within hours of several traffickers, before an investigation could be conducted.

However, after 9/11 the Cambodian government had become cooperative in the war on terrorism. In March 2006, the month after the refusal of a visa, the FBI nonetheless awarded Hok Lundy a medal for his support for the US global war on terrorism, and the US ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, praised Lundy's cooperation with the US in drug trafficking and human smuggling. State Department officials confirmed at the time that Hok Lundy had been invited to visit the FBI specifically because of his purported cooperation in counterterrorism. When, in April 2007, the FBI invited him to Washington for such discussions, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, commented: "Hok Lundy's alleged involvement in political violence and organised crime in Cambodia means that the FBI should be investigating him, not hosting him."

The sudden death of a man who had made many enemies has sparked much speculation in Cambodia that the helicopter crash may not have been an accident, despite reports of bad weather. The helicopter caught fire, and the government has promised an investigation. Many people would have cause to celebrate the death of Cambodia's Mr Untouchable.

A French online agency, K-Set, has reported that Chea Mony, the brother
of the slain trade unionist and presidentof the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia, has said that the death of the top policeman means that the number of murders of politicians, entertainers and Cambodian reporters will undoubtedly be reduced, but regrets that he was never brought to justice.

Hok Lundy, soldier and police chief, born 1950; died November 9 2008

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