CNRP Leaders Join Unionists to Mark Chea Vichea’s Killing

More than 100 unionists and opposition politicians returned Thursday to the newsstand where prominent union leader Chea Vichea was gunned down in Phnom Penh in 2004, marking 11 years since the killing, which rocked the country’s labor movement.

In what has become an annual tradition, Chea Mony, who replaced his brother as head of the Free Trade Union (FTU) after his death, called on the government to find justice for Chea Vichea, whose murder remains unsolved.

Garment workers gather Thursday morning for a ceremony in Phnom Penh marking the 11th anniversary of the day Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea was gunned down. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)
Garment workers gather Thursday morning for a ceremony in Phnom Penh marking the 11th anniversary of the day Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea was gunned down. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

“The case of Chea Vichea’s killing, it has been open for 11 years so far, but the perpetrators who killed Chea Vichea have yet to be found or arrested,” Mr. Mony said.

“The FTU calls for the judiciary and police, especially government institutions, to take steps to investigate and find the real killers—and those behind the killing of Chea Vichea—for prosecution,” he said.

Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha also joined the unionists in burning incense and laying flowers at the base of the statue of Chea Vichea that stands half a block from where he was killed.

An unmasked man walked up to Chea Vichea in broad daylight on the morning of January 22, 2004, and fired two shots at point blank range—one into his chest and another into his head. More than 10,000 supporters marched in the union leader’s funeral procession.

Police arrested two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, days after the killing, but a judge dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence. However, in June that year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court overturned this decision; the pair were convicted of Chea Vichea’s murder in August 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Supreme Court sent their case back to the Court of Appeal in 2008 for reinvestigation due to intense scrutiny of the case, but the Court of Appeal decided to resentence the men in December 2012 for the killing. However, Mr. Samnang and Mr. Sam Oeun were exonerated by the Supreme Court in September 2013 and freed.

On September 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the municipal court to reinvestigate the case. The municipal court wrote to the National Police on January 28 last year ordering them to open a new investigation to find the real killer of Chea Vichea.

Mok Chito, head of the Ministry of Interior’s central judicial department, said Thursday that investigations into the case were complicated by the fact that former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who made the initial arrests, has since been imprisoned on a raft of murder and conspiracy charges himself.

Before being arrested, Mr. Pov told a French magazine that Mr. Samnang and Mr. Sam Oeun were arrested to cover up the tracks of the real killers on the orders of then-national police chief Hok Lundy, who died in a 2008 helicopter crash.

“Heng Pov made all the arrests, so this case is very complicated now since Heng Pov is jailed,” said Lieutenant General Chito, adding that police would nonetheless keep looking for the killer.

The opposition CNRP also canceled a screening planned for Thursday evening of the documentary film “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” which has been banned by the government due to its strong suggestion that the government was behind the union leader’s murder.

CNRP public affairs director Mu Sochua said the party canceled the screening because party members were busy supporting 11 imprisoned activists who had their case heard by the Court of Appeal on Thursday.

“There will be a screening for sure on another day,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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