Police in Kompong Thom province have identified three men suspected of killing a Sam Rainsy Party activist but have held off asking the provincial court for a search warrant because police fear the courts will tip off the killers, an official said Tuesday.
The three men—identified only as “Geg,” “Jhor” and “Mey”—are still at large in Kompong Thom province, said Men Rithy, police chief of Kompong Thom province. The three men are suspected of killing Sam Rainsy Party activist Tiv Sivutha on May 8.
Although Men Rithy said he could positively identify the suspects, he has not yet asked the courts for a search warrant because “If I told the court, it may tell the suspects, and then the suspects will flee.”
Men Rithy also said the Sam Rainsy Party activist, who was considered popular, was shot to death because of a personal dispute between himself and the suspects—a position shared by officials at the Ministry of Interior.
“After a preliminary investigation led by local police, we have found that this is not a politically motivated case and he was killed because of a personal dispute,” said General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. Khieu Sopheak said at least two of the suspects had been convicted of crimes and spent time in a provincial prison, but he did not know the details of their arrest or incarceration.
According to Men Rithy, the victim had two wives and one of the suspects might have been involved with one of the wives, which could have provided a motive for the killing. He also said Tiv Sivutha bought and sold wildlife, and one of the suspects may have killed him out of jealousy because Tiv Sivutha was successful in the wildlife business.
Officials from the Sam Rainsy Party, however, maintain that Tiv Sivutha was killed because of his affiliation with the Sam Rainsy Party and because he was a commune candidate in the Feb 3 commune elections.
Thun Saray, president of the human rights group Adhoc, said Tuesday that Adhoc is continuing its investigation into the killing. Although Adhoc has made no conclusion on the motive behind the killing, Thun Saray said the motive might be political because “his uncle asked him to resign from the Sam Rainsy Party.”
One human rights monitor, however, said Tuesday that assigning a motive for the killing is not the most pressing issue in this case.
“We are much more concerned with the consequences of these killings,” the official said. “Does the electorate think that the killing is related to politics? We need to reduce the number of political killings to the point where people do not think a killing like this could be linked to the political process.”
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Commission of the Senate sent two investigators to look into this case, said Kem Sokha, Chairman of the Senate’s Human Rights Commission. He said the investigators will most likely complete their investigation by the end of the week.