A popular Funcinpec commune election candidate was shot and killed in front of his home in Kompong Chhnang Tuesday night, the third candidate shot in the past three weeks.
Mean Soy, 57, of Svay Chuk commune, Samaki Meanchey district, was climbing the stairs to his home in Trapaing Mateh village at about 8:30 pm Tuesday when he was fired on by two assailants, Kompong Chhnang Governor Sou Phirin said. One bullet struck him in the neck, and he died at the scene.
Sou Phirin said the killing was not politically motivated, Funcinpec officials expressed bewilderment at the news and election observers renewed calls for the government to act quickly to stop the climate of fear that is building around the elections.
National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is also president of Funcinpec, said he was “shocked” by the killing and said he called Interior co-Minister You Hockry to request an immediate investigation.
The prince called for greater cooperation between his party and the ruling CPP, in line with a May pact pledging a violence-free election period. “We have to unite to stop problems from happening again,” he said.
“I am worried about the problems leading to the communal elections, but I hope that the Prime Minister [Hun Sen] is even more worried. Because we are seeking foreign aid for the elections.”
Funcinpec National Assembly lawmaker Sok San said he suspected a political motive for the killings because Mean Soy was a popular candidate and has not had personal disputes in the area. Mean Soy had scheduled a meeting with Funcinpec parliamentarians, including Sok San, for Wednesday, Sok San said.
But Sou Phirin, a member of the CPP Central Committee, said that based on a preliminary investigation, “we could say that the shooting was not political at all.” He said Mean Soy had been feuding with neighbors since 1990 over a logging business deal. He also hinted at disagreements between Mean Soy and other Funcinpec party members, and with Oral district residents over “sorcery.” But he said the investigation was not complete.
The Mean Soy killing was one of two possibly election-related attacks that occurred Tuesday night in Kompong Chhnang. Niang Kamsath, 28, the wife of a Funcinpec commune election monitor, was stabbed by a stranger outside her home in Tmar Eith commune, said Kek Galabru of the human rights group Licadho. But the knife only penetrated her nightshirts and did not cut her, she said.
The current wave of shootings began June 30 when Sam Rainsy Party candidate Uch Horn was killed outside his Kompong Speu province home. On July 1 Funcinpec candidate Seoung Sem was shot in his yard, but was not killed. Each shooting has led to two arrests.
In both cases local police linked the shootings to suspicions over sorcery, not politics. But on Thursday the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 18 local human rights groups, concluded that the killing was likely politically motivated. It called on the government to strongly denounce political violence and to make clear that killing—even of supposed sorcerers—is a crime.
An official with the human rights group Adhoc, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Uch Horn’s killing was premeditated. A different human rights official said a wife of one of the accused men said she would publicize what she knows about the killing if her husband is not released.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said the frequency of the killings was “very disturbing.
“It shows the government has not done enough to convey the imperative message to local officials that they’ve got to stop this kind of action from happening.”
Wiedemann said central government officials should take a stronger role in investigations, either taking charge themselves or closely supervising local investigators. “If (the killing is) not political, than prove it,” Wiedemann said. “If it is, then admit it and get out the message that it won’t be tolerated anywhere else.”
For the anti-violence pact to be effective, it must be backed up by improved communication between party leaders, Wiedemann said. “This [killing] should put more pressure on Funcinpec party leaders to talk with their CPP counterparts about how to put that pact in effect,” he said.
Kek Galabru said the potential for violence in the commune elections may be even higher than for national elections because of the stakes involved for the nation’s 1,621 commune chiefs. Most have been in office since the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and the elections mark the first time their near absolute power will be democratically challenged.
“They’re afraid of losing not only the power but their social status,” she said. “There should be a very strong message from the government to stop the violence, and to say that the best will win.”
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith and Thet Sambath)