2 Women Released After Being Taken by Police

Two women, taken by police from their home in Prey Veng province a day after they provided an alibi for the suspected killer of union leader Chea Vichea, were released late Monday night after being brought to Phnom Penh, a source close to the case said Tuesday.

The women are in good health and staying at an undisclosed location, according to the source.

Amnesty International issued a statement Monday night decrying the arrest of Vieng Thi Hong, the 20-year-old girlfriend of Born Samnang, 23, the suspect who has confessed to killing Chea Vichea.

“It is thought that she has been taken to the capital, Phnom Penh, for questioning. Her connection [to] a high profile murder case places her at serious risk of ill treatment in custody, and Am­nesty International is gravely concerned for her safety,” the Lon­don-based rights group said.

Vieng Thi Hong and her mother, Nguyen Thi Ngoeun, 36, said Sunday that Born Samnang arrived at their home in Peam Ro district’s Village 6 on Jan 20 and stayed until police took him away on Jan 27.

Chea Vichea was shot three times from close range at a Phnom Penh newsstand on the morning of Jan 22.

Numerous residents of Village 6 corroborated the women’s claims on Sunday. They said Born Samnang had been celebrating the Chinese New Year with them—dancing, drinking wine and playing karaoke tapes—at the time the union leader was slain.

Speaking by telephone Mon­day afternoon, Vieng Thi Hong said police had visited her that morning to ask if she had spoken to reporters. Less than an hour later, one of Vieng Thi Hong’s neighbors said by telephone that police had taken the girl and her mother away at dusk.

Earlier Monday, Born Samnang’s mother and other relatives had also supported the claims made at Village 6.

But a day after welcoming reporters and pleading Born Samnang’s innocence, raw nerves were apparent at the family’s Tuol Kok district home Tuesday afternoon where relatives had become reluctant to talk.

A young relative told reporters of several visits from district police—one officer at 10 am and three officers at 11 am—who had asked the whereabouts of Vieng Thi Hong.

But then an older relative silenced the younger and said that the younger was confused and did not speak the truth.

Born Samnang’s mother was not at home.

Two district policemen prowled by on a motorbike at 4 pm, peering into the family compound, inspecting its occupants.

Numerous police officials have denied knowledge of the arrests and the women’s transport to Phnom Penh, including municipal police and Tuol Kok district police, who rights workers had linked to the case.

“Last night, my police did not catch any women. I do not know what you are asking me about,” Reach Sokhun, Penal Police Department chief, said on Tuesday.

Municipal Deputy Police Chief Heng Pov, who is heading the investigation into Chea Vichea’s killing, did not answer telephone calls.

Born Samnang’s court-appointed attorney, Long Dara, sounded unconcerned with his client’s new alibis.

“My client confessed. He shot Chea Vichea. I am his lawyer to [give voice to] my client’s will. If my client said he killed him, I cannot protest. But if my client said he did not [kill Chea Vichea], I would provide more evidence to protect my client,” Long Dara said Tuesday.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police presented Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, to reporters on Jan 29 as the men responsible for gunning down Chea Vichea.

Once police removed the black hoods from their suspects’ heads, the two men cried out their innocence and claimed police had beaten them.

But on Jan 30, Born Samnang retracted his plea, saying he had murdered the union leader for $5,000. Sok Sam Oeun maintained his innocence.

A trial date had not been announced because the case had only just been assigned to investigating Judge Heng Thirith, Long Dara said.

(Reporting by Saing Soenthrith, Phann Ana and Porter Barron)

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