A military police officer was arrested in Ratanakkiri province yesterday for the murder of a journalist who was found hacked to death in the trunk of his car on Tuesday, officials said.
Hang Serei Odom, 42, went missing on Sunday—just days after he had a story published in the Virakchun Khmer newspaper linking military police in the province to smuggling illegal timber. A human rights worker said two other military police officials, and the suspect’s wife, had also been detained and questioned by police.
Military Police Captain An Bunheng was arrested at 10:30 a.m. yesterday at the provincial military police headquarters, Banlung City police chief Em Vun said.
Before he left his home for the last time, the victim, Hang Serei Odom, told his wife he was going to meet “Mr. Heng.”
Mr. Vun said the arrest followed a search of An Bunheng’s house in Boeung Kanseng commune-which is also a karaoke parlor-led by the provincial court’s deputy prosecutor. All of the suspect’s belongings had been removed, but a bloody blanket was found, he said.
“When police and court prosecutor Chea Sopheak raided and searched the house, he had escaped and hidden himself at the provincial military police headquarters,” Mr. Vun said. “Then, we went there to arrest him.”
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry-which is assisting provincial authorities in investigating the journalist’s death-said that An Bunheng had been questioned and that police were preparing to send the case to the court.
An Bunheng had been stripped of his position, he added. “Before he was a suspect, he was a military police, but he is no more.”
Lt. Gen. Sopheak said that Mr. Bunheng was the only person arrested, but said he suspected more people were involved.
“I think that he alone could not [kill Hang Serei Odom]. He had associates.”
Despite officials insisting that only one person had been apprehended so far for the murder, Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc-who is closely monitoring developments in Banlung City-said three more people had been detained.
Mr. Bunheng’s wife, as well as a deputy military police commander for Veun Sai district and King Sieng Lay, the son of the provincial military police commander, had also been taken into police custody, Mr. Bonnar said.
An article written by Hang Serei Odom, published on September 6 in the Virakchun Khmer accused Mr. Sieng Lay, who is a military police official himself, of being involved in the illegal timber trade in the province.
Mr. Bonnar said that Mr. Sieng Lay and the detained deputy commander had been seen drinking with Hang Serei Odom at Mr. Bunheng’s karaoke parlor on Sunday, the night the journalist is thought to have been hacked to death.
“The primary information we have received so far is that these officials who have been detained and questioned at the provincial police [office] were at the drinking table with the slain journalist,” he said.
Concern over the murder continued yesterday, with Adhoc, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist and the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia (OPCC) all issuing statements calling for justice in the death.
“Another unsolved case such as this would mark the 11th in 20 years in Cambodia, further implying to the world that Cambodia has its limits on the press freedoms it heralds,” the OPCC statement said.