Marking an escalation in pre-poll violence, the weekend saw the fatal shooting of a Funcinpec supporter in Kompong Thom province, grenades thrown at the homes of two CPP supporters in Prey Veng province and the slaying of two brothers, reported CPP supporters, in Takeo province.
Police are investigating the incidents but have refused to make any link between the violence and the forthcoming general elections, for which campaigning kicked off relatively peacefully on Thursday.
Also on Monday, the Washington-funded International Republican Institute fingered the ruling CPP as the main obstacle to fair elections and accused the Ministry of Interior of abetting impunity by not properly investigating and prosecuting politically motivated crimes.
The weekend violence marred what some observers had tentatively noted was a relatively peaceful opening of the monthlong election campaign period.
In Kompong Thom on Saturday night, Proeng Norn, 50, was shot once in the throat by assailants who fired up through the floorboards of his stilted house where he was sleeping.
Deputy Provincial Police Chief Chan Sokrin said the killing did not appear to be political.
“We don’t know for sure about this, but this murder looks more like a personal dispute,” he said.
In Takeo province, brothers Prum Sam Ath, 37, and Prum Sam Ang, 35, were shot multiple times Saturday night after their house in Tram Kak district was surrounded by several armed men, police and human rights workers said.
Nou Sangwa, Takeo police chief, said Monday the brothers were CPP supporters but were killed by robbers.
“It is really a robbery. It is not political revenge,” Nou Sangwa said.
None of the victims’ property was taken in the robbery, said Nou Sangwa, adding that he expected to make arrests soon.
Adhoc human rights investigator Chan Soveth discounted the police theory because nothing had been taken.
“The reason for the killing is not clear. But it shows it was a well organized murder and very brutal,” Chan Soveth said.
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak also confirmed on Monday that grenades were lobbed separately at the homes of two CPP supporters in different districts of Prey Veng province on Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Three teen-agers were injured in one of the attacks, said Khieu Sopheak, who declined to speculate on the motive or if the weekend of violence was linked to the elections.
Last week, a Funcinpec member was gunned down in Prey Veng’s Peam Ro district, and a grenade was later lobbed near the home of a second Funcinpec supporter in the same area.
Police have branded both incidents common crimes.
“So far we do not conclude if [the incidents are] political. Our main task is to make arrests. We don’t care about any political parties, our main task is to safeguard security and order for the people,” Khieu Sopheak said. “After the criminal is arrested we will know their motive.”
Delivering results of their third election assessment report, the IRI blasted Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP government as “the chief obstacle to fair elections.”
Access to the broadcast media remains inequitable, while intimidation is unacceptably high and the elections complaints process was inadequate, the IRI said in its report.
Since November, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights has reported 200 instances of election intimidation and 10 killings that may be politically motivated, IRI added.
“IRI reiterates its concern that until the Royal Government of Cambodia acknowledges the existence of politically motivated crime, very little can or will be done to reduce the current state of impunity,” the report stated.
“The Ministry of Interior’s failure to credibly investigate and prosecute politically motivated crimes has the effect of aiding and abetting a culture of impunity,” it added.
Political campaigning also continued between Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh over the weekend, with the prince denying on Sunday he was responsible for signing over the renovation of the Olympic Stadium to a private company in 1995.
Prince Ranariddh said his renovation agreement with JM Trading Import and Export Co, Ltd, was only for restoration of the athletics field and not the construction of apartments and shops or the prevention of ordinary people from using the stadium.
Hun Sen wrote a letter to King Norodom Sihanouk on Saturday accusing the prince of signing the stadium deal.
It was Hun Sen who presided at the signing ceremony in 2000 when the current Taiwan-based company took over the renovation project, said the prince, adding he did not fear if the case went to court as the July 27 elections would decide who to punish.
Funcinpec also issued a statement on Monday condemning the removal on Saturday by Hun Sen of Tuol Kok district Governor Klaing Huot, a royalist party member. Hun Sen had no right to arbitrarily remove the Funcinpec official, who should have been replaced by one of Funcinpec’s own, and not a CPP member.
“Funcinpec strongly condemns this act and Funcinpec cannot accept this act that violates the law and the agreement,” the statement said.
In Oddar Meanchey province, it was nature—not politics—that injured 10 commune committee members Saturday.
The group had met to discuss election issues when lightning struck in their midst, provincial police chief Ath Kem said Monday.
(Reporting by Lor Chandara, Phann Ana, Kim Chan and Kevin Doyle)