His larynx was sliced open by shrapnel and he could barely talk, but wounded Son Sann Party activist Khieu Rama was still able to write Monday.
Sitting up painfully in his hospital bed in Phnom Penh, Khieu Rama scratched out a terse account of pressure against opposition party members in Takeo province in the month before the deadly grenade blast Saturday at his sister’s house.
“On April 15, the local authorities announced that anyone who supports an opposition party has to resign from that party,” he wrote. “Since April 5…they threatened those Funcinpec and Son Sann party members whose names were not on the [CPP] register, saying they could not vote.”
Son Sann Party officials said Monday the grenade blast that killed Khieu Rama’s brother and sister, Khieu Nuon and Khieu Khy, was connected to the CPP’s aggressive membership drive ahead of upcoming elections.
“We have talked with all the witnesses to the blast. Unfortunately, what we expected was true,” party president Son Soubert said. “Just the day before, Mr Khieu Rama was asked to give his thumbprint on the CPP document to state he was a member of the CPP, and he refused.”
The next evening, a grenade blast ripped through Khieu Thy’s house at about 6:30 pm, killing her and her brother. Both were active in the Son Sann Party in their home district of Kiri Vong, Son Soubert said.
Khieu Rama, the district party president, survived along with two other family members.
His wife, Paet Mann, 37, says she has no doubt of the motive for the attack. “It was political,” she said, holding her 18-month-old son in her arms.
“The authorities had openly threatened the opposition….They said only those with thumbprints are allowed to vote,” she said.
However, Khieu Kanharith, information secretary of state and a senior CPP official, said he found it unlikely that opposition figures would be under any pressure by CPP membership drives in Khieu Rama’s district.
“It is the most remote area in the province. So this is strange,” he said. “If this were true, it is surprising that there would be any attempts there….It would be better to make this in a more-populated area.”
Khieu Kanharith said the evidence does not support Khieu Rama’s account of the blast.
“The preliminary investigation by police confirmed that the grenade was not thrown from outside but exploded inside the house,” he said.
Police have no suspects. Takeo Governor Sou Phearin blamed the attack on a land dispute.
Still, the grenade blast and a second attack reported in the same province put a spotlight on the CPP’s widespread drive to gather thumbprints and vote pledges for the election. Critics say that village and commune officials—who tend to be CPP members—are using their influence to pressure potential voters.
“They ask people to take an oath, swearing to die if they don’t vote for the CPP,” National Assembly member Kem Sokha (BLDP-Son Sann) said. “If people refuse, they have a problem like Mr Khieu Rama had.”
Kong Mardy, the Son Sann Party president in Takeo’s Tram Kak district, said Monday the party sign above his home had been shot three times on Sunday.
He said he had not been asked to give a thumbprint, but had previously been “invited” to a chat by local authorities. “They wanted to correct me and tell me not to be political,” Kong Mardy said.