Even as authorities continued their investigation into last week’s shooting death of a 28-year-old Sam Rainsy Party activist in Kompong Thom province, party officials were saying the slaying was politically motivated.
Tiv Sivutha’s killer or killers left behind a motorbike and a walkie-talkie after the shooting Wednesday night—a fact that shows he was most likely targeted for his political beliefs, Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said.
Tiv Sivutha, who ran a grocery store in his Prasat Sambor district home, had been a Sam Rainsy Party candidate in the Sroeng commune council elections in February, officials from human rights groups Adhoc and Licadho said Sunday.
But that does not necessarily mean the killing was politically motivated, one Licadho official said. Tiv Sivutha had been involved in several disputes over his wife and his business. Several years ago, a man confronted him with a handgun in a dispute and Tiv Sivutha pulled out a gun of his own, the Licadho official said.
Although the motive for the killing is still unclear, the fact that a political activist was killed before next year’s national elections could sour the democratic atmosphere, one UN observer said.
“We are in the pre-election period for the next elections, and a killing like this poisons the atmosphere, whatever the motive behind the killing is,” UN Election Analyst Adrian Edwards said, adding the UN is investigating the killing.
At least 17 Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party candidates or activists were killed under “suspect circumstances” in the year preceding the commune council elections held Feb 3, a UN report released in April stated.
Similarly, a Human Rights Watch election report issued May 1 reported at least one Sam Rainsy Party activist was killed in Kompong Thom province.
On Dec 8, Sam Rainsy Party activist Ouk Sao was shot dead in his home in Kompong Thom province. So far, the authorities have not arrested any suspects for the killing of Ouk Sao, the report stated.
“The effects of violence and intimidation go far beyond the individual targeted, or the village or commune where they live,” the Human Rights Watch report stated. “The only effective way to resolve these problems remains to end the impunity granted to perpetrators of human rights abuses.”
Tiv Sivutha left his wife and two children at home Wednesday night to buy stock for his grocery store, Kompong Thom province Sam Rainsy Party chief Sok Pheng said.
Neighbors reported hearing gunshots around 7:30 pm not far from his home. Police found his bloated body lying under a bridge the next morning around 10 am. Three AK-47 shells lay on the ground nearby, Sok Pheng said.
Police are still investigating the shooting, but it was still “too early” to determine a motive for the slaying, Kompong Thom provincial Police Chief Men Sothy said. Nonetheless, the killer would be brought to justice—whatever the reason for the killing, Men Sothy said.
The area of the shooting is also home to many illicit weapons and ongoing disputes over forestry concessions, so no one should rush to judge the nature of the case, the chief added.
That has not satisfied Sam Rainsy Party leaders.
“It is a political crime to dishearten the opposition for the national elections,” Eng Chhay Eang said.
Tiv Sivutha had been threatened before the election, Eng Chhay Eang said.
(Additional reporting by David Kihara)