As killings go in Cambodia, the reports of the death of Ngoun Hoeung were almost depressingly typical: a dispute over land. A drunken village chief. Four assailants, three AK-47s and five shots.
But Ngoun Hoeung’s death in the remote Kampot village of Roluos was different in one way. It got major play on national television Friday, portrayed as the politically motivated killing of a CPP activist.
It was one of the few reports of political killings reported in recent memory on state-run TVK, a government spokesman confirmed.
The case, and especially the high profile given to it, has a local human rights group puzzled.
“This matter is not involved with politics. It appears to be a land dispute,” an investigator for the rights group Adhoc said Sunday.
The Adhoc official said his investigation—and that of the Kampot police—suggests that Ngoun Hoeung’s killing was the result of a personal dispute. In fact, he said, one of the people arrested in the case is the village chief, who is a CPP member.
The case was a turnabout of the usual order of suspected political killings: The government insisted the slaying was an assassination, while human rights workers insisted it was an “ordinary” murder.
The UN Center for Human Rights and other rights groups have complained that the government has done little to investigate more than 90 killings of opposition members.
Ngoun Hoeung was killed on April 20, gunned down at his farm by four men.
Kampot District Police Chief Seng Sokhon said Sunday that two men were arrested April 22 in the killing.
One of them was named Hak and was the village chief, he confirmed.
Asked what the motive for the killing was, Seng Sokhon said the investigation was still ongoing.
But, he mentioned, Ngoun Hoeung was in charge of protecting state land and had angered some people in the village.
On Friday, April 24, TVK broadcast a statement from the Cambodian People’s Party decrying the death of Ngoun Hoeung as a “trick of intimidation, which threatens the spirit of the people and destroys the political climate for the election.”
The TVK statement said that Ngoun Hoeung was a CPP activist and director of the party educational office in Kampot.
The CPP statement said the killing was an “act of human rights abuse” and demanded that the government take immediate measures to capture the unknown killers. It did not mention the two men already arrested.
Information Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that the decision was made to air the CPP statement because people have a misconception that members of that party are never the victims of attacks.
“This [attack] is not the first time,” he said.
Asked why TVK had not covered the suspected assassinations of opposition figures, Khieu Kanharith replied, “It would be difficult if every party published and tried to publicize the killings. It would create a circle of violence that would be bad for the elections.”
He said he was not surprised that a human rights group’s investigation had deemed the killing non-political.
“When CPP members are killed, not only do [human rights workers] not make any declaration against it but they contest the claim,” he said.
“They only protest killings of the others.”