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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