Injured Wife Says Attack Not Political
toul bey village, Kompong Cham – Though the wife of a Sam Rainsy Party member gunned down here Thursday said her husband was killed over a water dispute with a neighbor, the party maintains it was because of his political activities.
Seng Sokhom, who was wounded in the attack that also killed her 7-year-old daughter, said Sunday that her husband, Chim Chhuon, had been arguing with a neighbor for two years over who had the right to pump water from nearby canal.
She acknowledged that her husband was active in local politics, but she and her neighbors said it was not a factor in the shooting.
The Sam Rainsy Party has labeled the incident a political killing. In a press release issued Friday, the party said Chim Chhuon, 53, was “assassinated on the eve of the Party Congress and ahead of the scheduled communal elections.”
Chim Chhuon was supposed to take part in the party congress (see page 10) held over the weekend and was a leading candidate for the party in upcoming communal elections, according to the party’s statement.
“As in other cases of [our] activists being murdered, it is always the most efficient, the most prominent activist,” Sam Rainsy said Sunday night. “And each time it is presented as a robbery or an ordinary case.”
Sam Rainsy said party members were in Kompong Cham on Sunday investigating, but that he had not heard back from them.
Provincial officials stressed Sunday that the shooting was a personal dispute. Mao Phirum, deputy governor of Kompong Cham, criticized a Voice of America or Radio Free Asia radio report aired Friday and Saturday which he said implied the killing was political. “I have talked to many villagers on this case, and they say there was no political motivations at all,” he said.
Mao Phirum said police are investigating the shooting, but do not yet know the shooter’s identity.
Seng Sokhom, 42, said she can not name the assailant because she did not see him, but emphasized he is linked to the water dispute. “I do not think the murder is related to political intimidation,” she said Sunday, lying on a mat in her house, with an intravenous tube dripping medicine into her arm.
She said the dispute started in 1998 when a neighbor, who she declined to name, told her husband he was not allowed to pump water from a canal for his fields. Chim Chhuon, who served as the commune military commander from 1979 to 1988 before becoming a farmer, told the man he was entitled to the water because the village dug the canal, she said.
The argument escalated and the neighbor threatened her husband with a gun and chased him with a knife, she said. The disputed calmed down until recently when the men began arguing again, she said.
On Thursday, Seng Sokhom, her husband and two daughters were sleeping by their water pump at the canal to guard it through the night. At about 8:30, a man sprayed the group with an AK-47.
Seng Sokhom said she awoke to gunfire and saw her husband walking toward the man. “He said ‘Why did you shoot me?’ “ she said. The man fired at Chim Chhuon again, killing him, she said.
Seng Sokhom ran home with her unharmed 10-year-old daughter and was taken to a hospital in Kompong Cham, treated and brought back to her home Friday. Later that day, her husband and daughter, the 7-year-old, were buried.
As Seng Sokhom was telling her story to reporters Sunday, a group of provincial and district officials arrived at the home. Yin Bun Tita, the secretary general of the provincial cabinet, said the group had been in the area inspecting an irrigation dam
After talking with Seng Sokhom about the incident, Mao Phirum gave her 400,000 riel for her treatment. A provincial official with a video camera recorded the visit.