Monday, November 10, 2008

Cambodia: Police Chief Killed In Helicopter Crash

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodia's national police chief, a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was killed Sunday (9 Nov) in a helicopter crash, government officials said.

Gen. Hok Lundy, the police commissioner-general, died when the helicopter in which he was traveling went down in Svay Rieng province in the country's southeast, said Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.

Three other people _ the pilot, co-pilot and a military general _ were also killed, said police Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force. 

Cambodia probes chopper crash that killed police chief

Chief of police Hok Lundy died along with deputy army commander Sok Sa Em and two pilots on Sunday evening when their chopper went down in bad weather shortly after taking off from Phnom Penh airport.

"There will be an immediate investigation of the cause of the crash," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP, without providing further details.

Ministry of interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that "in general, the crash was caused by bad weather" but there were witness reports that the tail of the helicopter may have hit something on its way down and caught fire.

"According to eyewitnesses, there was a fire on the tail of the helicopter before the crash, but this is not the official reason for the crash," Khieu Sopheak said.

Hok Lundy had been a close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen for nearly three decades, and one of his daughters is married to one of the premier's sons.

Born in 1950 and a former governor of southeastern Svay Rieng province, where the crash occurred, Hok Lundy was appointed national police chief in 1994.

He was routinely criticised by international organisations for alleged human rights abuses and corruption within his force, and last year Human Rights Watch said Hok Lundy "represents the absolute worst that Cambodia has to offer."

The police chief was accused of involvement in drug trafficking and politically motivated killings, including a 1997 grenade attack against anti-government demonstrators that killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 120 others.

However, he was also praised by US officials for cooperation in counter-terrorism.

Human rights groups protested a decision to allow him a visa to the United States last year for counter-terrorism talks with the FBI.

The State Department had refused him a visa in 2006 due to allegations he was involved in trafficking prostitutes.

Before leaving for his trip last year, Hok Lundy said the allegations against him were cooked up by his political opponents.

"The US government thinks that I am a good law enforcement leader," he told local media.

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