It was about 7:30 pm on Sunday when a fight erupted at a noodle stall on Phnom Penh’s Street 264 between the driver of a motorbike and the driver of a Lexus suburban utility vehicle.
That fight, apparently over a minor traffic accident, ended with Yont Thauron, the son of SRP lawmaker Yont Tharo, being shot to death and three of his friends being hit with at least one bullet each.
Witnesses interviewed yesterday said that the gunman, who is now being sought by police for killing Mr Thauron, 25, and injuring the three other people, started his rampage of violence after he crashed his motorcycle into Mr Thauron’s Lexus. He had initially apologized for damaging the car, but when he refused to pay any compensation for repairs, tempers flared and the shooting started.
When the argument over compensation for damage to the Lexus began, the motorbike driver took out a gun, stuck it in his belt and told Mr Thauron three or four times that he should complain directly to the Ministry of Interior because he was an anti-drug police officer, said 19-year-old Chan Makara, who witnessed the entire event.
According to Mr Makara, the armed man didn’t appear to want to fight but when Mr Thauron, angered by the refusal to pay compensation, grabbed the motorcycle driver’s shirt, it “made him angry.”
“First the gunman shot at the nearest victim [Mr Thauron] in the head and he fell to the ground. Then [the gunman] ran out to shoot the other men in the park [across from Wat Botum] and then [came] back and shot the dead man one more time before he got on his motorbike and drove away,” Mr Makara continued.
Several witnesses, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, confirmed Mr Makara’s account of the events.
The police report, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, also states that Mr Thauron had been shot in the head and in the abdomen after an argument following a traffic accident.
Among Mr Thauron’s friends, Kaing Kimhong, 25, was shot in the back; To Rithea, a 25-year-old student was shot in the abdomen; and Lim Manira, 39, a minor crimes police officer, caught one bullet in his thigh and one in his stomach, according to the police report.
Daun Penh district police chief Yim Socheat declined to answer questions about the case and referred a reporter to the police report. He declined to say if police had any suspects. Municipal police chief Touch Naruth and Interior Ministry officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
Reached by telephone, SRP lawmaker Yont Tharo said that he has appealed to the municipal police to find the man who killed his son and bring him to justice. Mr Tharo said he had filed complaints with Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Daun Penh district police, and municipal police on Monday asking them to conduct a thorough investigation.
“My youngest son was shot and killed by the gunman…. The gunman did not solve the problem according to the traffic law. He solved it by his gun,” Mr Tharo said.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said Monday he had not received enough information about the shooting to make any conclusions, but added that the authorities should investigate the case carefully and catch the culprit to avoid any suspicions that the killing was politically motivated.
“Because of the timing of the incident and the fact that he is the son of an opposition [politician] that has been involved in recent incidents with the police…. All of this is suspicious, so that is why we want the police to clear these suspicions,” he said.
Mr Tharo made news last week when he attended a protest following the defamation conviction of SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua. He was photographed while scuffling with anti-riot police who were trying to drag away his bodyguard. Chan Soveth, monitoring chief for local rights group Adhoc, said that their investigation so far had found no evidence that the killing was politically motivated and that it was more likely a result of lax gun laws.
“The gunman did not plan to shoot the victims according to our investigation…. It was a small case that led to murder,” he said.