6,000 Ask US to Probe Chea Vichea Killing

The Free Trade Union of Wor­kers of the Kingdom of Cam­bodia has sent an appeal and a petition, containing the thumb­prints of more than 6,000 workers, to US Ambassador Charles Ray, asking the US help find those re­sponsible for the murder of their former president, Chea Vichea.

Citing recent news reports as evidence, Som Sam Neang, the union’s secretary-general, wrote that police intentionally ar­rested the wrong suspects in hopes of avoiding the outcry of ci­vil society.

“We are concerned because the violent killings of innocent people and democrats, and the culture of impunity, always takes place in Cambodia,” the letter stated.

US Embassy spokesman Da­vid Gainer said last week that his embassy had maintained contact with government officials “to ex­press a strong desire to see an ef­fective investigation.”

On Thursday, Gainer declined to discuss the specifics of those contacts. But he said, “We urge police to redouble their efforts to find corroborating evidence in this case and believe it would be better to leave the case open and continue investigating than to risk the conviction of an innocent person.

“The police should ensure that witnesses are protected and that there is no perception that they have been threatened or intimidated,” he said.

On Feb 2, Ray said a police in­vestigation already encountering strong criticism had been “proper and professional” thus far.

Since then, residents of a Prey Veng pro­vince village told re­port­ers that suspect Born Sam­nang was celebrating Chinese New Year with them at the time Chea Vichea was shot in Phnom Penh.

Born Samnang confessed to the crime on Jan 30, the day after he emotionally pleaded his innocence at a police news conference.

Born Samnang’s girlfriend, Vieng Thi Hong, who initially was taken into police custody with him, also told reporters Born Sam­nang had admitted guilt only after police threatened the safety of their families and said cooperation would lessen his sentence.

Police said at the Jan 29 news conference that Born Samnang’s confession had led them to the second suspect, Sok Sam Oeun.

On Feb 9, the day after the Prey Veng alibis emerged, police took Vieng Thi Hong and her mother away. They were re­leased that ev­ening and the next day taken in by human rights workers.

Mann Senghak, deputy secretary-general of the Free Trade Union, said Thursday that his or­gan­ization wants the US Federal Bureau of Investigation involved.

“Because the union no longer trusts the Khmer government, we are demanding that the US government send FBI investigators here,” Mann Senghak said. “The US cannot interfere with internal issues, but if we have so many people demanding it, I hope the Unit­ed States will consider.”

(Addi­tion­al reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)

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