An opposition party candidate in the upcoming communal elections was killed in Prey Veng on Tuesday night, four days after another opposition party activist was wounded by gunmen in the same province and six days after a third party member was fatally shot in Kompong Cham province.
A Sam Rainsy Party official and an investigator from the Prey Veng office of Adhoc, a human rights organization, confirmed the two incidents Wednesday afternoon, calling them “politically motivated.”
Yea Muy, a 42-year-old man appointed by provincial party officials to run in the communal council election, was shot to death by a small group of unidentified men in Kamreng village, Theay commune, Ba Phnom district. The men reportedly ambushed Yea Muy as he was undressing to take a bath after being caught in a downpour while catching frogs and fish, according to party officials.
Last week’s victim, Hou Sim, who Sam Rainsy Party leaders called a communal council candidate in Kaur Khechork commune, Kampong Trabek district bordering Ba Phnom district, was wounded Aug 19. A group of unidentified men reportedly fired from beneath the victim’s stilt house while he was sleeping. They shot at him twice, and one shot hit Hou Sim in the ankle.
Police could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Om Yentieng, a top adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said he doubted the killings were politically motivated, suggesting they were likely the result of robberies or personal disputes.
Oeur Sam Ol, secretary to Sam Rainsy, said both incidents were clearly politically motivated, citing the fact that neither victim had a personal dispute at the time. He said the violence erupted as a result of the opposition party’s increasing popularity in the remote province.
“They killed and wounded our people as a political threat to other opposition activists who are popular,” Oeur Sam Ol said.
Chea Sophal, an investigator for Adhoc, the human rights group that confirmed the killings and is still investigating them, said they are “much more politically motivated than a personal dispute.”
“There are a lot of complaints that Sam Rainsy Party activists are being mentally and physically hurt and even killed,” he said.
Chea Sophal also said three other opposition activists in the Ba Phnom district where Yea Muy was killed have been threatened.
Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights organization Licadho, said any violence leading up to the communal elections is likely to be worse than that experienced before the 1998 general elections. The commune chiefs have more to lose if they are thrown from office, she said.
“The chiefs of the communes have all sorts of privileges,” Galabru said. “They’re treated like kings in their communes. If they lose, they will be nothing.”
Galabru also said she is worried the recent violence could result in the desired effect of deterring potential candidates from running for office. This could be particularly true with the drive to get more women involved in the elections, she said.
“This could have a bad consequence on women candidates,” Galabru said. “If there’s a lot of violence, they will not run.”
Election monitors with the Coalition for Free and Fair Election said the violence could make their jobs more difficult.
“We are trying to get farmers who don’t have money or power into the elections, but they’re scared,” said Sek Sophal, executive director of Coffel.
(Additional reporting by Deutsch Presse-Agentur)