Members of the Senate’s tri-partisan human rights commission disagreed Monday on whether a fatal double shooting earlier this month constituted Cambodia’s first political killing in two years.
More details of the killings in Kampot province emerged throughout the meeting as commission members compared notes from interviews with villagers, local authorities and the victims’ families. But the commission failed to come to a consensus.
“All the sources we interviewed have different reasons for the killing,” said commission chairman Kem Sokha (Fun), who spent the weekend in the Trapeang Kleang commune, where Prak Chhien and his wife, Doung Meas, were slain June 3.
Prak Chhien was fourth on a list of Funcinpec candidates recently selected to run in the upcoming commune elections and had been a Funcinpec member since 1993.
Kem Sokha said despite the divergent views, he is inclined to think the killings were politically motivated, but CPP members on the commission disagreed.
“Why wouldn’t they eliminate the No 1 contender if it were a political killing?” said CPP Senator Ung Ty, noting Prak Chhien’s fourth position on the roster. “I don’t think this was political.”
The commission found a number of theories of what happened that night in the rice field when the couple was gunned down in the evening by snipers with flashlights attached to their hats and AK-47s in their hands.
Villagers tend to believe the killings were a result of Prak Chhien’s popularity in the village and told Kem Sokha the current commune leaders might have been afraid of that popularity.
Yet local authorities asked the commission to instead focus its attention on the high percentage of former Khmer Rouge soldiers now living in Trapeang Kleang, a stronghold throughout the years when rebels fought the government. Unlike other defectors, these one-time soldiers still are heavily armed and possibly dangerous, officials told the commission.
They also asserted the killing could have been the result of a robbery or a land dispute.
But both theories were discounted when the commission discovered the victim still had money in his pocket when he died and his family’s two buffalo remained, commission members said. Moreover, the land he farmed was acquired and paid for years ago, and the commission could find little evidence of any dispute.
The family members, however, refuted both claims and said the killings had neither political nor material intent. Five of Prak Chhien’s six children—the youngest of them 17—told the commission that their father was “sad and quiet” one month before his death but said they had no idea why. They also said he was not actively campaigning for a position in the commune leadership.
Kem Sokha on Monday said he believes the family was intimidated by the large number of officials present during their interview over the weekend. Yet Ung Ty said they spoke “openly and honestly.”
The most commission members said they can do with the findings is issue a report to higher-ranking officials urging them to take action. They also are trying to keep in contact with police to learn of any changes in the case.
“Local officials have a responsibility to investigate this case further,” said Kem Sokha. “If Funcinpec authorities investigate it and encounter intimidation [from CPP authorities], then we will know this is a political case.”