The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP on Tuesday traded barbs over the savage mob killing of an ethnic Vietnamese man in Phnom Penh on Saturday, with each party laying blame for the murder with the other.
Nguyen Vann Chean, nicknamed Ngoc, was beaten to death by a mob in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Loeu commune on Saturday night after going to help a friend involved in a traffic accident.
“The killing is a direct result of the rhetoric used by Sam Rainsy and his party, who use the word ‘yuon’ to incite ethnic cleansing and gather [political] support,” CPP spokesman Phay Siphan said Tuesday, referring to a derogatory term for Vietnamese people that was also reportedly used to incite the mob murder.
“The CNRP had been warned that something like this could happen,” Mr. Siphan said. “[Cambodian Center for Human Rights president] Ou Virak made a very strong statement against the use of the word and the U.N. [Special Rapporteur] Surya Subedi also expressed his concern.”
Mr. Siphan said that while the Cambodia-Vietnam rivalry runs deep on both sides of the border, Mr. Rainsy’s return from four years of self-imposed exile to contest the election last year coincided with a rise in the use of the racially-charged word “yuon.”
“At public forums, on radio, in the media, people are more and more encouraged to openly and publicly express their hatred of Vietnamese,” he said.
“They use it against police, against politicians and against people with lighter skin. It wasn’t always like this.”
For his part, since Mr. Rainsy returned from his self-imposed exile last year, he has fended off suggestions that he, and by extension his party, is xenophobic.
But a large part of the opposition’s campaign was based around “getting rid of the yuon,” who Mr. Rainsy and others say illegally enter the country, steal votes and jobs, and encroach on land.
Following the brutal killing of Nguyen Vann Chean, the CNRP on Monday released a statement condemning the murder, without making any reference to his name or ethnicity.
Mr. Rainsy said Tuesday that the ruling CPP, rather than his party, could in fact be held accountable for the young man’s death, and that focusing on the victim’s ethnicity was taking the incident out of context.
“This man didn’t die because he was Vietnamese,” Mr. Rainsy said. “He died because of the vicious cycle of impunity and violence in this country which has become part of the culture because the government does not address the problem.”
“Even the most trivial dispute can lead to murder in Cambodia and this is because the rule of law is not properly enforced,” he added. “Impunity breeds violence. This is the bigger picture.”
The Vietnamese Embassy also weighed in on the killing Tuesday, with spokesman Tran Van Throng saying that an embassy team would conduct its own investigation and issue a diplomatic notice to the Cambodian government in due time.
“We condemn the activities of the group [who murdered Nguyen Vann Chean] and ask authorities to take measures to arrest all the suspects,” Mr. Van Throng said.
Police on Tuesday slapped a slew of charges on 50-year-old Von Chanvutha, who is believed to have incited the killing by calling out “Yuon fight Khmer” during an argument at the scene of the traffic accident.
Mr. Chanvutha, the only man arrested in the wake of the murder, was charged with aggravated incitement of violence resulting in death, and intentional violence, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun.
According to witnesses, as many as 20 people were involved in the beating and eventual death of Nguyen Vann Chean. Chak Angre Krom commune deputy police chief Huot Vanna said that his men are still working to identify further suspects.
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)