A seemingly minor dispute between an Interior Ministry official and a village chief in Phnom Penh turned deadly when the official gunned down the village chief and his relative on Wednesday afternoon, according to police, who offered wildly different reports of the shooting.
Tey Visal, deputy chief of the municipal police’s penal bureau, said that Chup Lay—the longtime chief of Village #4 in Chamkar Mon district’s Tuol Svay Prey I commune—was shot to death along with his adult son at about 3:30 p.m. following an argument over streetlight repairs with Keo Vannarith, 27, a second lieutenant in the Interior Ministry’s order department.
Mr. Visal said a third man was also injured in the shooting, but that he did not know the man’s identity.
“This case happened because the village chief went to collect money to repair streetlights and they had a fight with each other,” Mr. Visal said.
He said Mr. Vannarith and two others—whose names he claimed not to know—were arrested following the shooting, and that the Interior Ministry official had been sent to Calmette Hospital for treatment because “he was struck with swords many times.”
District police officials declined to comment when reached on Wednesday evening, while Tuol Svay Prey I commune police chief Pov Pidor said he did not know what led to the shooting.
“They had a dispute, but I am not clear what the problem was that started it,” Mr. Pidor said, declining to comment further.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith offered a more complete —albeit very different—picture of what transpired between Chup Lay and Mr. Vannarith.
“I just reviewed the initial report that two are already dead and one is critically injured and the shooter is also injured seriously,” Lieutenant General Chantharith said.
Like Mr. Visal, he said the confrontation stemmed from the recent installation of streetlights in Village #4, for which each resident was expected to pay between $20 and $25.
“Two days ago, the village chief tried to collect the money from the villagers to pay for the poles’ cost and got into the dispute with the owner of this house—the uncle of the shooter,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith said, adding that the argument was quickly resolved.
“We don’t know why today the village chief [went] again to this house,” he said. “After that, two of his grandsons brought two swords and struck the nephew of the house owner, who is a police officer.”
Mr. Vannarith then reacted in self-defense, the spokesman said. “So he was injured, so he tried to get the gun and he shot the three because the grandsons of the village chief went there and tried to cut him.”
Lt. Gen. Chantharith added that both the shooter and the surviving grandson were arrested and taken to a hospital in critical condition.