Two Pursat province soldiers are suspected of fatally shooting a Funcinpec activist and his wife, provincial police said Tuesday, though it remains unclear why the pair were killed.
The suspects, both from Phnom Kravanh military base, allegedly shot and killed Funcinpec activist Las Kouk four times and his wife, Math Chaes, twice with an AK-47 in Rolas village, Krakor district, said Pursat province Deputy Police Chief Prach Rem.
He said the suspects robbed the victims of gold, a motorbike and $400.
Prach Rem declined to name the suspects, but said police will arrest them very soon. Provincial police said they have detained a third individual for questioning, although that person is not suspected in the killings.
The commune council elections will be held Sunday. The motive for the double killing is still unclear, but Funcinpec parliamentarian Say Mongkol—the uncle of Las Kouk—said Tuesday the suspects killed his nephew for political reasons. Las Kouk was killed just two days after leading Funcinpec supporters on a series of marches through communes in Krakor district, Say Mongkol said. He said that the suspects arrived in Las Kouk’s home village on the same day the victim led the election march.
“The [killing] was politically motivated because those soldiers had a plan to kill my nephew; they came to stay at the village for two days before the killing,” Say Mongkol said. “But in this case, [the suspects] took gold, money and a moto and made it look like a robbery, so we had to conclude that it was a robbery.”
The couple were carrying the gold and $400 because they were traveling to a nearby village in order to buy rice, Say Mongkol said. He said they were shot at approximately 2 pm.
Despite Say Mongkol’s accusations of a politically motivated killing, officials in Pursat province and at the Ministry of Interior maintained the motive for the killing either was robbery or cannot be determined.
“If the murder is political or not political does not matter to the government, because we will find who is responsible. That is the commitment of the government,” said Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.
Khieu Sopheak disputed claims that Las Kouk was killed for political reasons or that soldiers may have been involved. “I can tell you that this was not an order by the government or police to kill an official,” Khieu Sopheak said.
Kem Sokha, a Funcinpec Senate member, said he could not say if the killing was political or not. He said that the motive behind the killing was not as important as the effect it has on the population, especially during an election year.
“These killings affect every person in Cambodia, especially since they are near an election,” he said. “The government should ensure the safety of all people during the period leading up to the election.”
Kem Sokha said he was confident the government will conduct a thorough investigation, despite the fact that of the 15 killings identified by a UN report released early this month, only one person has been convicted of murder.
“Funcinpec members are in the Ministry of Interior, so we will press for a thorough investigation,” Kem Sokha said.
An official from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said a team of UN investigators will conduct an investigation into the killing.
A European Union election monitor based in Pursat said that the EU team in the province has also asked police and villagers in the area about the killing, but could make no conclusion about the motive.
“It’s very hard to say if the killing was politically motivated,” said the EU official, who declined to be identified. “We really can make no verdict in the killing.” The EU official said the bodies of both victims, who were Cham Muslims, were buried in the village on Monday.
At least 15 commune election candidates or activists for Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party have been killed in the past year, according to the UN report.
A CPP activist was killed earlier this month. In most cases, local police officials have said the killings were not political.
Although the number of killings is fewer than the number of killings in the run-up to the 1998 elections, when 22 political killings were reported, the UN said the deaths still threaten to destabilize Sunday’s commune council elections.
Meanwhile, Funcinpec National Assembly lawmaker Nan Sy said a Funcinpec member and a child were killed in a traffic accident Sunday near Pursat town.
A Ministry of Interior official confirmed there was an accident involving a teacher near Pursat town, but could not say if the victim was a Funcinpec member.