Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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A letter from a man who knew Graham Cleghorn in Cambodia

July 2007

David Vaughan

Dear Lynley Hood


I am writing to thank you for your concern on behalf my friend Graham Cleghorn. I worked with Graham during 1992-3 while a US Army Captain assigned to the UN Mission. I was assigned as the Operations Officer in Siem Reap responsible for the Multi-National Observer Teams spread across Northeastern Cambodia.

As an Unarmed Military Observer interested in defusing possible conflict points between the still warring factions, I found Graham a wealth of information. He had worked and lived with the Cambodians in the Refugee Camps in Thailand for many years as a paramedic. He related that he was familiar with many in the Royal Family and that he had assisted them in leaving the country which earned him the emnity of Hun Sen's political party. As you know Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge Officer who was convinced by the Vietnamese to defect. He was installed as figurehead in 1976 - a position he has held ever since because he would not give up power after a free election in 1993.

After these elections many of the supporters of the opposition party in Siem Reap started disappearing by murder or imprisonment. Graham related this to me, and advised me of schemes to displace him and steal his property, which was favourably located on the road to the Temples of Angkor Wat. Graham’s bar/restaurant was the only successful one on this road, though several were started by Cambodian Army Officers hoping to cash in on the tourist trade. I consider the charges against Graham to be nothing more than a scheme to enable some very corrupt people to "legally" take his land.

Graham of course had young women working in his restaurant, which seemed to be part of the attraction, as was the western food he served and his friendly, helpful manner. I suppose these young girls were his "Achilles Heel" that the corrupt NGOs could exploit. Traditional Cambodian society considers girls working at places like Graham's to be prostitutes. I can assure you the Brothels were already well established all over Siem Reap and Graham's place wasn't one of them. These girls were obviously poor and from surrounding villages. They were given room and board. Having watched other young girls being sold to brothel owners, I considered the ones working for Graham quite fortunate. The Cambodian Army, Police and High Officials loved to appear high minded and pious, but greatly enjoyed the illegal Brothel trade which existed all around the City of Siem Reap.

I recall one occasion when Graham and I heard a rifle shoot at about 11 PM very near to his business. He and I both went to investigate. We discovered that a Cambodian Soldier and a Policeman had become embroiled in a heated argument over an issue at the Brothel, which was approximately 150 meters from Grahams place. The UN CIVPOL (Civilian Police) would not investigate much, particularly after 5 PM. I also recall investigating Cambodian Soldiers attempting to shoot ripe mangos out of trees nearby - the concept of danger to the surrounding populace not being one easily grasped by the soldiers, so I took their ammo. On one occasion I came across a drunken Cambodian Army Officer in a car sitting in front of Graham's business waving around a pistol while telling the people to vote "correctly" in the upcoming election or else. Graham, seeing me stop and talk with the drunk, moved closer to the car to assist me if necessary. I then took the drunk's pistol, unloaded it and put it in the truck, and removed his radio so reinforcements would not show up. Graham later returned the hand held radio to the drunken officer. Graham and I would drive around the perimeter of the city every night to observe and report on things. As you can see, his very association with the UN personnel was enough to garner the ire of the CPAF (Cambodian Army).

Graham’s association with certain high level ANKI (Royalist Faction Army), KPLNAF (Gen Lon Nols fighters) and certain members of the Royal Family that he assisted, gave some protection to him during the civil war period. Once the threat of armed forces against them left, the CPAF turned it's attention to the white devils that were against them. The point of my letter to you is not to regale you with stories of danger and intrigue, it's to try and show that Graham has always been their enemy because he tried to do the right thing. He is just a man who has been caught in between the forces of greed and corrupt judicial power. Not much has really changed in Cambodia. As for the circumstances around his arrest, I cannot write as I was not in the country at that time. I am merely trying to show that the deck has always been stacked against him and as a foreigner with valuable property, he was a target.

The judge in Graham's case was involved in the original attempt to "liberate" his land and his hands are dirty. It would seem this Cambodians Women's Group is a front for an enormously effect scam which has already worked well in attracting money. They do not want the good times to stop and so a prosecution every once in a while to the delight of their patrons is just what the police and judges order.

Thank you again for shining a light in a very dark place and helping my friend Graham. I wish you could meet and know Graham as he is man with high principles that would not cave in to the graft and corruption all around him. We fear for his health and life as living in a Cambodian Prison is only conducive to an early grave.  Thank you again.


David Vaughan