Officials from human rights groups have declared that the killing of Sam Rainsy Party commune candidate Touch Voeun was politically motivated, making it the third political killing this year by their count.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 18 local NGOs, said in a written statement that three commune candidates have been killed since January, adding that through their investigations they have found 82 cases of political threats and intimidation against political activists and candidates for the commune elections, which will be held in February.
Although the statement did not name Touch Voeun, 54, as one of the three candidates killed for political reasons, CHRAC Chairman and Executive Director of the Cambodia Defenders Project Sok Sam Ouen confirmed that the action committee determined Touch Voeun’s killing was political.
Officials from the committee reject claims by Siem Reap province authorities that Touch Voeun was shot because of a personal dispute over black magic and sorcery.
Adhoc investigators said they interviewed more than 20 people from seven villages in Kompong Kdei commune, where Touch Voeun was shot twice by two unknown assailants at 11:30 pm on August 23. He died in the hospital shortly afterward. No suspects have been apprehended yet, officials said.
“The farmers in his village said he was a very popular man, that he always helped people and helped organize celebrations in the district,” said an Adhoc official who declined to be named for fear of retribution.
In addition, although the UN Human Rights office has not completed its investigation, it has found “no compelling evidence that shows [Touch Voeun was killed because of] a personal dispute,” a UN human rights official said.
Noun Sophal, provincial police chief in Siem Reap province, said Touch Voeun had disagreements with his relatives, who threatened his life many times.
“When they brought his body out to be cremated, we examined it one last time and found a bullet placed under his neck,“ he said. According to Noun Sophal, the bullet was put under Touch Voeun’s neck by his relatives, and it symbolized a quarrel between the family members. Also, he said the victim’s wife, Thab Leung, did not cooperate with police.
“We want to find out the offender and find out if it was a personal dispute,” Noun Sophal said.
Provincial authorities had previously said Touch Voeun was killed because he was a sorcerer—a claim frequently made by authorities investigating acts of alleged political violence.
But Adhoc investigators dispute claims that Touch Voeun was killed because he was a sorcerer or because of a family dispute. They said the people interviewed said they wanted Touch Voeun as a candidate.
The investigators did learn that in 1994, Touch Voeun’s wife reported to officials in Chikreng that she and Touch Voeun found a letter and bullet under their house.
The letter accused Touch Voeun of practicing black magic, and threatened to kill him if he did not stop his sorcery, Adhoc investigators said.
The threat came at a time when many villagers from Chikreng were becoming ill, investigators said.
Because of these accusations, Adhoc investigators interviewed 10 people who were ill in Chikreng. The 10 individuals said Touch Voeun was not practicing black magic and that they thought him to be a good person who helped run the local pagoda in Tapeum village, investigators said.
Touch Voeun, who is survived by his wife and six children, had been active in politics in Kompong Kdei commune since he joined the Sam Rainsy Party in 1996.
The CHRAC has also declared politically motivated the killings of Sam Rainsy Party commune candidate Uch Horn, 52, and Funcinpec commune candidate Meas Soy, 57.