Sam Rainsy on Thursday defended his claims that one of his party’s commune candidates was killed for political reasons, despite reports from the victim’s family that they were unsure of the motive for the killing.
“I have spoken to the family in private, and they told me the truth—they are afraid to speak out because if they do, they could be in danger,” the opposition leader said during a news conference Thursday at his party’s headquarters.
Three unidentified men dressed as soldiers gunned down Chhim Leang Sri, 45, over the weekend in his Cheyo commune, Kompong Cham province home. The motive for the slaying was robbery, provincial police claimed.
Earlier this week, members of the victim’s family told reporters they were not aware that Chhim Leang Sri was a commune candidate. Chhim Choun, Chhim Leang Sri’s nephew said he was unsure of the motive behind the killing, but did not rule out robbery.
Kun Kim, a neighbor, said Tuesday he doubted the shooting was politically motivated because the unidentified gunmen broke into the house of Chhim Chhun, Chim Leang Sri’s younger brother. Chhim Leang Sri was shot when he ran out of his home with a large knife to apprehend the gunmen.
Sam Rainsy, however, disputed the family and police’s claims, saying Chhim Leang Sri’s widow, father and son told him the motive behind the shooting was political.
CPP militia men killed the Cheyo commune candidate as a part of a larger campaign of terror and intimidation by the CPP to frighten Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec commune candidates from running in the February elections, he said.
“Several dozen [opposition party] candidates have withdrawn their candidacy” from the commune elections, but “brave people have replaced the candidates who pulled out of the race,” Sam Rainsy said.
The family probably lied when they said the shooting was over a robbery, he added.
“After the killing of one of their family members, the remaining family will not admit that they believe the shooting was political because they are afraid,” he said.
Although Sam Rainsy conceded he should wait until NGOs “finish their investigation” before concluding that the death is officially categorized as a political killing, he did not retract his statements that Hun Sen was directing the “terrorist” activity against the Sam Rainsy Party.
Likewise, he said he did not think that denouncing Hun Sen as a terrorist was contradicting his party’s mission of promoting peace in Cambodia.
Sam Rainsy said he was still trying to convince the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to declassify their information on the 1997 grenade attack during a Sam Rainsy Party rally—then called the Khmer National Party—which left 19 dead and 150 injured in Phnom Penh. He maintains that the grenade attack was an act of terrorism by the CPP and Hun Sen.
“I think if you cover up something, it will only make the situation worse—we need to denounce violence and give information to the people,” he said. “Why should we stop at this point? We have to speak out against terrorism to combat terrorism.”