mong russei district, Battambang province – Another Sam Rainsy Party activist has been slain, an opposition parliamentarian claimed last week. But provincial police said the murder of Hay Meath was personal, and that he may not even have been a party member.
Hay Meath, who was alleged to be an active member of the opposition in this heavily CPP-controlled province, was shot dead and his wife wounded March 15, said Lon Phon, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian for Battambang province. According to the victim’s wife, Te Roeub, a former commune militiaman had “cursed and threatened” their family.
“My family was having dinner when [the suspect] opened fire at my husband,” she wrote in a statement to Lon Phon. “He died immediately.” Te Roeub fled, but encountered the attacker again. “He fired two shots at me and I was seriously injured,” her statement read.
The killing was politically motivated, Lon Phon claimed in an interview in Mong Russei last Tuesday, after he had traveled to the area to look into the matter.
“The problem is, he was very active and very popular,” Lon Phon said. “He was not a [commune election] candidate yet, but he would have been.”
Heng Chanta, Battambang provincial police chief, said he was awaiting a warrant from the courts and could make an arrest in the next few days.
“It is not a political killing,” he said. “It was a personal dispute that caused that….There is nothing to confirm that [the victim] was a Sam Rainsy member.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has repeatedly said his activists in the countryside are being threatened, beaten and killed as the country’s first commune elections—scheduled for February 2002—approach.
At least three members who his party claims would have been commune election candidates have been killed in the past few months, Sam Rainsy said at a recent press conference.
But authorities have accused Sam Rainsy of using the killings to further his own political agenda. Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, even suggested recently that Sam Rainsy’s accusations are meant to hide his own flagging popularity in the countryside.
Only one killing last year was classified as political by the US State Department in its annual human rights report. The victim was a Funcinpec party member from Kampot. His killer, a former CPP commune chief, was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Battambang province has historically been tough ground for the opposition to gain a foothold. The party’s presence there was all but destroyed in late 1999, when the government made a sweep of opposition party members thought to be connected with the 1998 Siem Reap rocket attack it calls an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Two opposition party members were arrested and a third, Sok Yoeun, fled to Thailand, where he is currently the Cambodia government is seeking his extradition.
Shortly after the arrest, local residents in Battambang said the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters outside of town had been abandoned. Human rights workers at the time said there was evidence of continued intimidation of opposition members.