Kompong Chhnang provincial police on Tuesday arrested one of six suspects wanted for the murder of a journalist in Cholkiri district nearly nine months ago, police said Wednesday.
Suon Chan, 44, who worked for the infrequently published Meakea newspaper, died on the way to the hospital after being beaten by six men with bamboo poles on January 31. The reporter had left a gathering at his home in Peam Chhkork commune to buy cigarettes when the group attacked him.
The victim’s family claims that the arrested suspect—Yang Phealeng, 36—had been living freely at his own home for the past month, but police said he only returned on Tuesday, when they pounced. The other five suspects remain at large.
“We just saw Yang Phealeng when he came to visit his family during the Buddhist Lent ceremony and we arrested him in compliance with the court warrant we received two months ago,” said Him Yong, the district police chief.
Mr. Yong said his officers had been actively searching for Mr. Phealeng and his alleged accomplices and rebuked suggestions by the victim’s family and rights workers that police had been paid off to allow the suspects to remain free.
“We never conspire with suspects or take any bribes—those accusations are fabricated. We have been working to protect the people’s interest and to arrest the suspects.”
Contacted Wednesday, Pov Dol, the father of the slain journalist, said Mr. Phealeng had been back to the village numerous times since the murder and accused police of corruption.
“After they killed my son, they ran away from the village, but [Mr. Phealeng] came back one day before Khmer New Year and on July 19 came to stay for a few days before running away again,” Mr. Dol said, adding that the suspect had returned again on September 22.
“The authorities have colluded with the suspect,” he said.
In the wake of Suon Chan’s death, his work photographing and filming people using illegal fishing techniques was cited as a possible motive for the attack, which appeared to be unprovoked.
At the time, rights group Licadho admonished that suggestion, with its provincial coordinator Kong Chanmony saying that, based on his investigation, the attack “did not happen due to a professional matter.”
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Chanmony said all six suspects were tried in absentia on October 7 and charged with intentional killing.
He also reversed his position on the motive for the killing, saying that it was “because of the victim’s reports about illegal fishing.”