Cambodia’s top cop dies in chopper crash

Cambodians celebrating their national day on Sunday woke to the news Monday that their most senior police chief, along with a 4-star army general, had died in a helicopter crash. Chief of Police Hok Lundy had held the position for 14 years, and was a trusted offsider to Prime Minister Hun Sen. Last year, the organisation Human Rights Watch claimed the police chief “represented the worst that Cambodia has to offer”, but his sudden death nonetheless shocked many Cambodians.

Talent: Prince Sisowath Sereyrath, deputy of the ruling coalition’s FUNCINPEC party and former minister of defence; Chea Vannath, government analyst and former head of Cambodia’s Centre for Social Development.

ADAM CONNORS: Chief of Police Hok Lundy died along with Army deputy commander Lt Gen Sok Sa Em and two pilots, on Sunday evening, their chopper going down in bad weather shortly after taking off from Phnom Penh airport. Prince Sisowath Sereyrath, a deputy of the ruling coalition’s Funcipec Party and former minister of defence, explains the prime minister’s reaction.

PRINCE SISOWATH SEREYRATH: As the prime minister was very emotional, he was crying when the body of the Police Commissioner, Hok Lundy, was placed in the coffin at his residence.

ADAM CONNORS: The government has opened an immediate investigation into the crash, but details are still unclear, apart from consensus about the ferocity of a storm that night.

PRINCE SISOWATH SEREYRATH: All we know is that on that night was a very heavy rain storm all over Cambodia and we believe that it was affected with the rain storm, (although it might have been) the engine’s failure or pilot’s failure. We don’t know anything until a further investigation is undertaken.

ADAM CONNORS: Witnesses have told the local governor the helicopter glanced off a small hillside as flames burned from its tail before it crashed. Government analyst and former head of Cambodia’s Center for Social Development Chea Vannath has heard more of the eyewitness testimonies.

CHEA VANNATH: It seems like people heard the noise of the crash. Some say because of the lightning and because the weather was not good. I think it was raining or something like that. Because of his high position in the government, that’s why they need to do further investigation before they jump to any conclusions.

ADAM CONNORS: That two of the country’s most senior defence figures would die in such a way has led to speculation that it wasn’t an accident. Hok Lundy was a close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen for nearly three decades. One of his daughters is married to one of the premier’s sons. But he was routinely criticised by rights organisations for abuses and corruption within his force, including claims of drug trafficking and politically motivated killings. Even though the police chief had close ties with the top of Cambodia’s leadership, Chea Vannath says the people are already speaking of conspiracy.

CHEA VANNATH: One person is responsible about national security for this whole country, a lot of things might happen.

ADAM CONNORS: Would Hun Sen consider losing Mr Hok as losing a very loyal servant and assistant in running the country?

CHEA VANNATH: On one hand yes, on the other hand I don’t know. Maybe the person knows too much, or the person knows everything.

ADAM CONNORS: Prince Sisowath says it’s still too early for that sort of conjecture, and there’s, in fact, yet another strong family tie that discounts that conspiracy theory.

PRINCE SISOWATH SEREYRATH: You know this is very difficult for anybody to answer such a question, but the helicopter is under the supervision of Mr Hok Lundy’s son himself, who is the President of the Sokha Helicopter, who transports tourists everyday. It is a rental helicopter. Every day it’s in the air, transporting tourist or other official who wish to take a fight to the province when they have no time to drive. But, honestly, I doubt very much that there is any conspiracy behind this thing.

ADAM CONNORS: Hok Lundy will be buried in his hometown on Saturday.