One More Dead in Shooting of Village Chief

A third man died of gunshot wounds in Phnom Penh Wednesday night after an Interior Ministry official gunned down a village chief and his relatives when a neighborhood dispute escalated earlier in the day, police said on Thursday.

According to police and residents of Chamkar Mon district’s Tuol Svay Prey I commune, Keo Sovannarith, a second lieutenant in the Interior Ministry’s order department, shot Chuk Lay, 62, the longtime chief of Village 4, following an argument on Wednesday afternoon over payment for new streetlights, before turning his Beretta on the village chief’s son, Bun Loeun, 28.

When Chuk Lay’s 18-year-old grandson, Lay Rithy, rushed to the scene with a sword to defend his uncle and grandfather, he was also shot by Mr. Sovannarith, according to Nuon Sanith, deputy chief of the municipal police’s penal bureau.

“The village chief’s grandson died at the hospital last night. The doctor called to tell me at about 11 p.m., but I do not know what time he died,” Mr. Sanith said.

He said Chuk Lay was killed on the spot, while Bun Loeun died in the hospital a few hours later.

According to Mr. Sanith, the village chief had enlisted the Chinese-speaking Mr. Sovannarith to collect money—a total of $50—from Chinese neighbors in the area for an upgrade to the streetlights.

When Chuk Lay came to pick up the money on Wednesday afternoon, however, Mr. Sovannarith handed over only $25, leading to the deadly dispute.

Police and relatives have provided vastly different accounts of how the violence unfolded, with Mr. Sanith saying Bun Loeun struck first with a sword he happened to be carrying at the time.

When Mr. Sovannarith responded by shooting both Bun Loeun and Chuk Lay at close range, Mr. Sanith said, the grandson came running with his own sword and was also shot.

“We have arrested two people: Keo Sovannarith, 27, the gunman, and his brother, Keo Vannara, 34, who was carrying a bag containing the pistol after the incident,” he said.

At the village chief’s home on Thursday, three caskets held the bodies of the men from three generations of the same family, as about 100 people gathered to pay their respects.

Chuk Lay’s youngest daughter, Bun Sreypov, 19, said she witnessed the initial argument and ensuing bloodbath.

She said Mr. Sovannarith was the aggressor, and that he had accused her father of planning to pocket the money for the streetlights.

“At that time, the gunman shot my father many times,” Ms. Sreypov said, adding that only then did her brother retrieve a sword.

After her brother was also shot, she said, her teenage nephew also intervened, only to be met with the same fate.

“My father was shot in his chest twice, his abdomen twice. His ribs were hit once and his right leg was hit once,” Ms. Sreypov said.

“My brother was shot in the temple and my nephew was hit in the stomach.”

Commune police chief Pov Pidor would not comment except to say that he was watching over Mr. Sovannarith at the hospital.

“I have been guarding the shooter at the hospital because he was sent here for treatment for the injury he received from the sword,” he said.

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