The family of slain political analyst Kem Ley fled the country on Sunday in the hope of being relocated to Australia or the U.S., but has no clear timeframe or guarantee of resettlement, friends of the family said yesterday.
Sam Inn, who was a close associate of Kem Ley, said the family was currently in either Thailand or the Phillipines.
The outspoken government critic was gunned down inside a Phnom Penh convenience store on July 10 in what is widely believed to have been a political assassination. Days later, his pregnant widow, Bou Rachana, said she was considering moving to Australia with her four sons due to concerns about their safety.
On Sunday, she took a step toward doing so, leaving the country with her sons, sister and brother-in-law, as well as nephews and nieces, according to a family friend who asked not to be named because she did not want to betray their confidence.
“They are in a second country under U.N. hands, and then U.N. will take care [of] everything,” she said yesterday. “They are in a safe place.”
The friend said there were a number of reasons why the family left, including multiple instances in which they were followed by unknown people. In one case, she said, Ms. Rachana’s third son was trailed from their home and “they were asking him, ‘Are you Kem Ley’s son?’”
Vivian Tan, regional press officer for the U.N.’s refugee agency, said yesterday that she was unaware of any U.N. involvement in the move. Ms. Rachana could not be reached.
The man suspected of shooting Kem Ley was arrested by police minutes after fleeing from the Star Mart where the murder took place. He confessed to the killing, which he said was motivated by a $3,000 debt the analyst had refused to pay back, and has since been charged with premeditated murder and placed in provisional detention.
The families of both men, however, say the two did not even know each other, while police investigating the case have provided no new information since the day of the murder, fueling public suspicion of a politically motivated hit. Mr. Ley was a frequent critic of the ruling CPP, but did not spare the opposition either.
Mr. Inn, secretary-general of the Grassroots Democracy Party, which Kem Ley helped to form last year, said he had heard from friends that the family was in either Thailand or the Philippines, preparing to apply for asylum in Australia or the U.S.
“They don’t know what can happen when this investigation is going on,” he said. “We are also concerned over her safety as well if she continued to stay in Cambodia.”
“That’s why we think it is better for her to live in Australia or America, where there is a community that can support her there,” he added.
Both countries are home to large Cambodian communities established by those who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge regime or in the years that followed.
According to the family friend, Ms. Rachana said she was also considering other countries such as Sweden, where asylum may be easier to secure.
But Buntenh, a dissident monk who was close to Kem Ley and helped organize his funeral, said it was unclear whether Ms. Rachana would return to Cambodia.
“She gave the rights to the funeral committee to organize the 100 days,” he said, referring to a traditional ceremony held 100 days after the death of a person. “When it happens, whether she comes back or not, we will obey her decision.”
A statue of Kem Ley, whose funeral procession drew tens to hundreds of thousands of supporters, is currently in the works. An opposition lawmaker has submitted a request to place it in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Senior military officials, however, have promised to protest against the statue and even take it down if it goes up, arguing that Kem Ley is no more a hero than the many soldiers who gave their lives fighting for the current government.
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)