Cries for jus­tice on an­niver­sary of Cam­bo­dia critic’s mur­der

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thou­sands gath­ered yes­ter­day at the grave of a prom­i­nent Cam­bo­dian critic who was gunned down a year ago in a mur­der that sparked widespread anger and skep­ti­cism over the al­leged killer’s mo­tives. Kem Ley, a pop­u­lar and charis­matic po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, was shot twice in the head as he sipped cof­fee in Ph­nom Penh-a brazen as­sas­si­na­tion that sent shock­waves through the coun­try’s al­ready be­lea­guered ac­tivist com­mu­nity. Un­em­ployed for­mer sol­dier Oeuth Ang ad­mit­ted car­ry­ing out the killing and was sen­tenced to life in March after a brief trial.

His de­clared mo­tive, that the mur­der was re­venge for an un­paid $3,000 debt, caused broad dis­be­lief and was not cross ex­am­ined in court be­cause he ef­fec­tively ad­mit­ted his guilt. “I don’t know whether they made up that debt story but I don’t be­lieve it at all,” Kem Ley’s 77year-old mother Phok Se, told AFP as well-wish­ers be­gan gath­er­ing at the fam­ily home in Takeo prov­ince. “There has been no jus­tice for us so far,” she added, echo­ing the sen­ti­ments of many at the cer­e­mony which saw Bud­dhist monks chant prayers as devo­tees made of­fer­ings around the grave.

In Ph­nom Penh po­lice stopped mourn­ers from plac­ing flow­ers at the petrol sta­tion cafe where Kem Ley was gunned down. In a joint state­ment to mark the an­niver­sary more than 100 lo­cal and for­eign or­ga­ni­za­tions called on the gov­ern­ment to re­open the case after a “flawed trial”. “There has been no transparency in the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and there are still many unan­swered ques­tions in this case,” the state­ment read, adding there was “com­pelling ev­i­dence” Oeuth Ang had ac­com­plices.

Many friends and sup­port­ers find it hard to be­lieve Oeuth Ang, who rarely held down a job, could af­ford to lend $3,000 — more than twice the av­er­age an­nual salary in Cam­bo­dia. “One year has passed and yet we are nowhere near un­cov­er­ing the full picture of what hap­pened to Kem Ley,” Chak Sophea, from the Cam­bo­dian Cen­ter for Human Rights, said. Cam­bo­dia has been ruled by strong­man premier Hun Sen for 32-years and has a dark his­tory of usu­ally un­solved ac­tivist killings.

In the 1990s and early 2000s such as­sas­si­na­tions were com­mon, but they had be­come rarer in re­cent years. Spooked that the bad days may have re­turned, tens of thou­sands turned out for Kem Ley’s funeral in scenes that rat­tled the gov­ern­ment. Kem Ley crit­i­cized Cam­bo­dian politi­cians of all stripes, but he was par­tic­u­larly scathing about the en­demic cor­rup­tion that blights the coun­try. Shortly be­fore his mur­der he gave a ra­dio in­ter­view about an in­ves­tiga­tive re­port that de­tailed some of the mil­lions of dol­lars amassed by Hun Sen’s fam­ily.

The gov­ern­ment has strongly de­nied any re­spon­si­bil­ity in his killing. Hun Sen faces crunch na­tional polls next year and has dra­mat­i­cally ramped up his rhetoric in re­cent months. Last month he called on crit­ics to “pre­pare coffins” and warned he would elim­i­nate “100 or 200 peo­ple” if sta­bil­ity was threat­ened. Hun Sen por­trays him­self as a leader who has brought growth and se­cu­rity to the war rav­aged na­tion. Crit­ics say cor­rup­tion, in­equal­ity and right abuses have be­come en­trenched dur­ing his years in of­fice.


CAM­BO­DIA: Cam­bo­di­ans hold images of prom­i­nent Cam­bo­dian critic Kem Ley dur­ing the first an­niver­sary of his mur­der at his mother’s home in Takeo prov­ince yes­ter­day.

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