Kem Ley’s Baby Born as Ceremony Tensions Rise

The birth of slain political analyst Kem Ley’s fifth son has brought new life to his family, but bickering among some of his friends and relatives over how to honor the man threatens to fray the very unity his career aimed to create.

Plans to honor Kem Ley with a traditional 100-day ceremony were handed to a funeral committee made up of his friends and family after his widow, Bou Rachana, fled the country with her sons in late August to seek permanent asylum out of fear for their safety.

Bou Rachana holds her newborn son, Kem Ley Virak, in a photograph posted to the Facebook page of CNRP official Sang Sann.
Bou Rachana holds her newborn son, Kem Ley Virak, in a photograph posted to the Facebook page of CNRP official Sang Sann.

Their whereabouts and activities have been largely kept under wraps since the popular government critic was gunned down while drinking his morning coffee at a gas station in Phnom Penh on July 10.

According to Tim Malay, a member of the funeral committee, a request was sent to City Hall on September 23 to hold the 100-day ceremony in Phnom Penh on October 14 and 15 before marching to Kem Ley’s home province of Takeo with a statue to honor him.

Kem Ley’s brother, Kem Rithysith, however, said he would make his own plan and would not participate in the Phnom Penh ceremony.

Mr. Malay said the committee “presented two pagodas: Wat Chas and Wat Thann” as possible sites for the ceremony. “Then we will march with statues of Dr. Kem Ley to Takeo” on October 16 and conclude the service on October 17, he said.

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said on Monday that the decision on whether to approve the location and march would be made “in one or two days.”

Mr. Rithysith said he would hold his own ceremony in Takeo, having removed himself from the committee’s planning over frustration with a past ceremony.

A procession carrying his body and casket from the capital to Takeo for burial in mid-July was postponed by the committee’s head, activist monk But Buntenh, at the last minute in order to allow for another week of planning and mourning in Phnom Penh.

“I never joined the meetings with the committee after But Buntenh announced the delay of the scheduled march,” he said. “I did not support it. If we had already made a decision, why did we not just go ahead with the plan?”

While Mr. Rithysith said he would welcome those who marched from the capital on October 16, he added: “I will not attend the ceremony of the 100th day in Phnom Penh.”

Additionally, he said he was upset by a lack of contact between Ms. Rachana and his family since she gave birth on Sunday to her youngest son, Kem Ley Virak.

“I do not know how to reach them,” he said. “It must be kept secret for them, but she should contact my mother to let her know about the situation.”

Neither Ms. Rachana nor Bun Buntenh responded to requests for comment.

According to Sam Inn, a longtime friend of Kem Ley who worked with him to launch the Grassroots Democracy Party, Mr. Rithysith had not been “really working smoothly with the committee” from the start.

“I think he should be proud because he has a brother like Dr. Kem Ley,” he said.

“He died, but everyone knows his name. It should be a celebration for him,” he added.

“I think it should be everyone being united to work on this.”

The late analyst was widely admired by the Cambodian public for his candid and easy-to-digest commentary on the country’s politics, taking aim at weaknesses in both the ruling party and the opposition.

Authorities investigating his murder have been tight-lipped about what progress—if any—has been made, fueling public speculation that the government was behind the slaying. Prime Minister Hun Sen has sued opposition leader Sam Rainsy for claims that the murder was an act of state terrorism.

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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