The 48-year-old leader of a Jarai community in Ratanakkiri province was found naked and strangled near her farmland on Thursday in a murder that police suspect may be linked to a land dispute with a private landowner, officials said.
Rochom Vel’s body was discovered by her family about 1 km from her home in O’Yadaw district’s Yatung commune after they went to look for her at about 3 p.m. as they had not seen her since that morning, commune police chief Tep Chantha said.
“Rochom Vel was strangled with a rope while she was out working alone on her farmland—one of her copper teeth and a watch were also stolen,” Mr. Chantha said, adding that it is possible whoever killed the victim thought the copper tooth was gold.
Mr. Chantha said that the victim’s brother is a CPP commune chief.
District and commune police officials went to the scene to investigate along with medical staff from the provincial hospital who checked the body for signs of rape.
“My staff examined the body today but although the victim was naked we have not found any sign that she was raped,” Ratanakkiri hospital chief Dr. Hing Phan Sokunthea said.
District police chief Mar Vichet said that police had found 1 meter of rope at the scene and were following leads but suspected that migrant workers were behind the murder, because the victim had been in dispute with a private businessman whose land borders her farmland.
“We are investigating the migrant workers because of the neighbor’s reports of her disagreement with the landowner, who has in the past threatened to clear part of her land,” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, agreed that the motive may have been revenge.
“We suspect that the murder was committed by the company’s workers because they have threatened to clear the victim’s land,” he said.