Fears mounted of an upsurge in political violence as news broke Thursday of the murder of another supporter of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Police on Thursday confirmed the shooting of Colonel Mom Sameth, a Funcinpec member and Defense Ministry official in the Kien Svay district of Kandal province. Reports differed as to the date and time of the killing, which police said happened as the colonel was driving a motorbike home after dining with friends.
Police cited robbery as a possible motive. Mom Sameth’s motorbike was stolen.
The news came as a three-day funeral began for Naval Police Chief Kim Sang, a Funcinpec general shot dead Wednesday morning after two gunmen in police uniforms and black caps fired on his car, forcing him to stop.
Human rights workers are investigating the killings, which they believe are part of an orchestrated campaign to neutralize Funcinpec security officials in the run-up to July’s scheduled elections.
Kim Sang’s cousin, Secretary of State for the Interior Kieng Vang, Thursday voiced fears that his allegiance to the prince could make him a future target for political assassins.
“I am waiting for the day that they come and shoot me, then I will be murdered like my cousin,” the Interior Ministry official and Funcinpec parliamentarian said. “Most senior Funcinpec officials loyal to Prince Ranariddh fear for their safety.”
Weeping relatives crowded around the body of Naval Police Chief Brigadier General Kim Sang as it was laid out Thursday morning in preparation for cremation on the weekend.
Kieng Vang said he believed the killing was politically motivated, noting that his cousin had received death threats.
“I have been threatened too,” he said. “The newspapers funded Vang must be removed,’” he said, adding he had forwarded copies of the articles to the UN Center for Human Rights.
Government officials say it is too early to establish motives.
“We are assuming nothing,” said chief government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. “But the most important thing is to find the culprit and afterwards we will discover the motive.”
Such statements have done little to diminish Kieng Vang’s fear. The Interior official said he was disturbed by recent TV broadcasts of a videotape of Funcinpec loyalists during July’s fighting, in which he is shown in the presence of top aides to the prince.
“I feel more and more afraid about that video broadcast,” he said. “It was put on television to provoke my killing.”
Human rights workers are investigating the executions of more than 12 military and police officials in the past six months. All the victims were members of Funcinpec.
Before that, more than 40 of the prince’s loyalists were tortured and executed in the wake of July’s factional fighting, according to a UN report in August.
One rights worker claimed Thursday that CPP security forces, possibly the government’s anti-terrorist unit, are carrying out the killings of the prince’s military and police officials.
“They are picking out individuals one after the other and eliminating them,” the worker said. “This is a continuation of what happened in July. A pattern is emerging.”
The worker said the violence is likely to escalate as the election approaches and that the government will continue to insist that the killings are not political.
“All these killings have been officially described as personal disputes or revenge or robberies,” the worker said. “When any investigation has been done, they have not pushed very hard. That is also part of the pattern.”
Prince Ranariddh’s cabinet in Bangkok on Thursday denounced Kim Sang’s slaying, accusing Second Prime Minister Hun Sen of orchestrating the hit.
“As we predicted in a previous statement, ‘The Killer’ continues to kill nine months after the coup,” the cabinet wrote.
“Not even a single criminal has been brought to justice,” the statement said, listing the names of eight Funcinpec generals it said were
“tortured and assassinated by Hun Sen’s henchmen.”
Khieu Kanharith dismissed Prince Ranariddh’s claims as “nonsense.” He said Hun Sen would not have had the time or interest to have anything to do with the murder as he was busy caring for his ailing mother.
The cabinet of First Prime Minister Ung Huot issued a statement Thursday condemning the killing, saying it will have “an adverse effect on human rights, the freedom of the people in all walks of life and democracy in Cambodia.”
The statement said that Ung Huot had ordered the Ministry of Interior to take “tough and urgent action to investigate the crime and hand over the criminal to
The ministry condemned the killing as a “cruel and barbarous act” and promised to use all means possible to find the killers.
(Reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun, Catherine Philp, Ham Samnang, Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Agence France-Presse)