kompong chhnang town – Citing a lack of evidence and inconsistencies in the testimony of one key witness, the Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court Tuesday acquitted the prime suspect in the killing of a Funcinpec commune council candidate.
Judge Ing Sarun ordered Phan Tong Hok released immediately after one day of testimony. Phan Tong Hok was arrested on July 29 and accused of the July 17 shooting death of Meas Soy, 57, an announced Funcinpec electoral candidate in Svay Chuk commune.
According to the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella group representing 18 NGOs, Meas Soy was killed for political reasons. As many as six candidates for the Feb 2002 elections have been killed this year, according to human rights and political party officials.
“I am very happy with the decision because I am not guilty,” Phan Tong Hok said outside the courthouse after the verdict was delivered. “I just want to live in peace and take care of my wife and children.”
The main witness against Phan Tong Hok was Rith Korn, the wife of Meas Soy. Before Rith Korn arrived at the courthouse, the court clerk read two conflicting statements she made to investigating judges and provincial authorities.
In Rith Korn’s first statement to provincial police, she said she saw two unidentified men running from the steps of her house moments after her husband was shot dead.
In her second statement, Rith Korn said she saw a report by police that said Phan Tong Hok was the suspect in the killing. She said police falsified this report. She said she never identified Phan Tong Hok as a suspect.
As the clerk was reading the second statement, Chim Bunthoeun, the chief of judicial police for Kompong Chhnang and a CPP member, entered the court room followed by Rith Korn and her daughter.
Rith Korn testified Tuesday that Phan Tong Hok was the man who she saw fleeing the scene of the shooting. Because the night was dark and rainy, she said she brought out a lantern and saw
him running away.
When the judge asked why she twice changed her statement to officials, Rith Korn said she was afraid that Phan Tong Hok would kill her and her family. She conceded that Meas Soy and
Phan Tong Hok never had any personal disputes and that the two men drank alcohol together at a small party on the day of the shooting.
Human rights workers said on Monday that Rith Korn told them after the killing that Meas Soy had been asked on three occasions to resign from Funcinpec.
Meas Soy, originally a CPP party official in Kompong Chhnang, defected to Funcinpec in 1992. In 1993, two unidentified CPP officials asked him to quit Funcinpec, the human rights workers reported Rith Korn as saying.
Meas Soy was asked to leave Funcinpec by CPP officials again in 1998 after the national elections, and asked a third time earlier this year after he announced he was going to run in the commune elections.
Rith Korn denied that she ever made those statements when asked outside the courthouse by reporters.
Five witnesses for the defense took the stand after Rith Korn, including three neighbors and the wife of Phan Tong Hok. The three neighbors testified they were visiting with Phan Tong Hok and his wife on the night of the incident.
Sun Vo, who lives less than 30 meters away from Phan Tong Hok, testified that Phan Tong Hok arrived at his house several minutes after the shooting and asked him to investigate the gunfire. Both men then walked the 500 meters to Meas Soy’s house, which took about “the time it takes to smoke a cigarette,” Sun Vo said.
While the two men were walking to Meas Soy’s house, another neighbor met them and told them that Meas Soy was shot dead. When they arrived at the house, they found it was true.
After hearing the testimony and considering the evidence, Ing Sarun declared Phan Tong Hok did not commit the killing and ordered him released. Prosecuting Judge Mak Phany said provincial authorities would continue the investigation into the killing of Meas Soy.