Security Worries on Sidelines of CPP Congress

Strategies to snatch victory in the July 27 general election will dominate today’s launch of the ruling CPP’s extraordinary party congress, but national security and the killing of a Phnom Penh judge are set to stoke heady de­bate on the sidelines of the two-day meeting.

Some 600 party faithful are expected to attend the meeting in Phnom Penh, which will focus on the work of the CPP during its past five years in government. Plans will also be drawn up for keeping the CPP in power for another half decade, party officials said.

The killing on Wednesday of Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony will not likely make an agenda slot in the conference, but it will likely be raised behind the scenes of the meeting, said Cheam Yeap, a longtime CPP member and parliamentarian for Prey Veng province.

“The party members will talk about that case, because it is news and involves security. The party leaders…will pay special attention to maintaining security,” Cheam Yeap said.

“I think Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen will make comments on this or maybe order police officials to look at this case,” he said.

Sok Sethamony, 42, was the first Phnom Penh judge to be assassinated in recent history.

Cambodia’s politically aligned judiciary are well connected to the country’s power structure. The daring nature of the execution-style killing and the target could have far-reaching consequences, observers noted.

“To lay hands on a judge, even in the [security] context in Cambodia, is still terrible. It’s mind-boggling,” a foreign diplomat said.

While security was an open question as the election loomed, the latest killing would shake public “confidence,” the diplomat added.

Sim Ka, head of the CPP’s Phnom Penh branch and No 16 in the 21-member Permanent Committee, said it was the government’s responsibility to investigate the killing, though neither the slaying of the judge nor other high-profile killings were related to politics.

“In the congress we will discuss and take some measures to protect stability and social security. All levels of authority have to maintain security for the people,” he said.

One senior CPP official said the agenda of the meeting would not be distributed until the first day of the conference; however, the conference is slated to focus party strategy for the forthcoming election campaign.

The killing of Sok Sethamony—who was shot four times as he sat in his vehicle at a busy intersection on Sihanouk Boulevard—on the eve of the congress was a “very bad” incident, the party official said.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen did not broach the killing of the judge, but did say congress observers should not expect any major policy changes from the CPP meeting.

Hun Sen also said the public should disregard speculation that the CPP will levy land taxes, break its partnership with Funcinpec or reshuffle the party leadership.

“We keep the policy of strengthening peace, stability and national reconciliation. We will not change the coalition government partner,” Hun Sen said in a speech in Prey Veng province that was broadcast on national radio.

Hun Sen said he was divulging details of the party congress to counter media speculation and fears among some diplomats and observers that major changes will occurring at the meeting.

“Some foreign radio [stations] always claim there will be policy changes related to land, fisheries and other reforms and the removal of leaders: Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Hun Sen, Cheam Yeap and Nhim Vanda,” Hun Sen said.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)

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