Motives Behind Pursat Violence Still Unclear

sampou meas district, Pursat province – On May 22, a little before midnight, a lone gunman shot and killed Sam Rainsy Party activist Young Nak and his wife, Voeun Phon, at the steps of their home in Krakor district’s Cheou Tom commune.

Both victims were returning home after fishing in the nearby flood plains of their commune when the shooter ambushed them. Young Nak was shot three times and died at the scene while Voeun Phon, also shot three times, remained alive for several hours before dying.

Those are the only undisputed facts in the shooting of the Sam Rainsy Party activists in Krakor district. No one witnessed the killings, the police have not arrested anyone and the authorities are still hesitant to assign a motive.

One month later, on June 22, in the same district, an alleged supporter of the Sam Rainsy Party, Em Phalla, was shot and killed by unidentified assailants in Anlong Tnout commune.

Two days after that shooting, four unidentified gunmen went at midnight to the house of Sann Sovannara, the sixth Sam Rainsy Party candidate for Pursat, and fired four shots into his roof in what he described as an attempted murder.

Again, no one witnessed the attacks, no arrests have been made and no motives assigned.

If there is a trend to the killings and acts of intimidation of political party officials and supporters during this year’s run-up in Pursat to Sunday’s election, then this is it: Like the 2002 commune elections, no one disputes that the killings take place yet everyone argues what the motive behind the killing is.

“I could not recognize who shot at me, but I know they were CPP,” Sann Sovannara said on Sunday in Sampou Meas.

Fearing for his safety, he has fled Krakor district and is currently hiding in Sampou Meas. “If I knew who the shooters were and saw them today, I would shoot them.”

The most heavily disputed of the killings is the shooting of Young Nak and Voeun Phon. Although no one saw the shooting, the couple’s 12-year-old son Chhin Choeuth heard the incident. He later told human rights investigators and the police that his mother told him the identity of the killer.

“When I heard the gunshots, I woke my siblings and ran down to see my mother,” Chhin Choeuth said in an interview taped by human rights investigators after the shooting. The tape was provided to reporters by officials with the Pursat district Sam Rainsy Party. “My mother said ‘Chap’ shot her.”

The man identified as Chap is a former soldier in Pursat, said Mao Mot, deputy police chief for Pursat province, on Monday. The courts have issued a warrant for the arrest of Chap, who allegedly escaped to Thailand’s Trat province, he said.

The provincial police have sent two officers to the Thai-Cambodian border to negotiate his return, Mao Mot said. Yet he refuses to assign a motive for the killing.

“This is not a case of politics or intimidation,” Mao Mot said. “But we don’t care if he is involved in politics—we are only interested in arresting the offender.”

Three days before Young Nak and his wife were shot, Young Nak lodged a complaint to the local Sam Rainsy Party office stating that Chap had threatened him while he was speaking to opposition party supporters in the area, said Eng Sam An, a Sam Rainsy Party official and former commune candidate for Cheou Tom commune, on Sunday. This complaint was never formally filed with the Pursat provincial election committee, he said.

But other complaints have been filed with the provincial committee office. All 10 complaints of intimidation or violence filed at the office since the beginning of the campaign period have been from the opposition party, said Phann Vansith, director of the Pursat provincial election committee office.

Meanwhile, the shooting death of Em Phally on June 22 is being dismissed by almost all parties involved as a non-election related killing—which is not to say that it is not being used by political parties for publicity.

Em Phally was a former CPP supporter and local forestry official before he defected to the Sam Rainsy Party two months ago, officials said. Since he never officially joined the opposition, the CPP has used the killing as an example of intimidation and violence against their party while the Sam Rainsy Party is doing the same.

“The CPP claim [the killing] is theirs. The Sam Rainsy Party claim the killing is theirs,” Phann Vansith said.


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