Two days after the drive-by shooting of pro-SRP newspaper journalist Khim Sambor and his 21-year-old son, Khat Sarinpheata, their bodies were cremated Sunday during a ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tompoung pagoda.
As the bodies of the men smoldered Sunday, so did the angst of their family, who spent the day sitting under a Banyan tree next to the flower-laden crematorium.
“I am so shocked. I love my brother. I love my nephew,” said a damp-eyed Khim Sareth, the older brother of Khim Sambor. “I was so upset when I heard, I lost control of my motorbike on the way to the hospital…. I am afraid of what could happen to my family next.”
The younger brother of Khim Sambor, Khim Rorang, said the family doesn’t know of any personal disputes that would have triggered such a violent attack.
“I appeal to all authorities at every level of the forces to find the killers,” he said.
International and local NGOs, as well as opposition politicians, have linked the murders to the upcoming national election, now less than two weeks away.
“Khim [Sambor] had written about corruption cases allegedly involving leading government associations, and his editor, Dam Sith, was recently charged with libeling Foreign Minister Hor Namhong,” wrote Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that advocates freedom of expression, in a statement issued Saturday. “The motive for the murder has yet to be established, but the context suggests it could have been in reprisal against a person who was both a reporter and an opposition activist.”
“This kind of violence against journalists will affect the freedom of expression and freedom of access to information for the people,” said Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho.
“We rely on the media to provide us good information so people can make educated choices the day of the election. But with a killing like this, the people who work for the media, they will be scared, so they will have censorship. So it is bad for media, which is bad for the people.”
The Sam Rainsy Party called the murders “a political threat” and urged voters to cast ballots for the SRP in a statement issued by the party’s members of Parliament on Saturday.
“This clearly demonstrates the nature of those in power…. By voting for the SRP, it can be ensured that an SRP government will find the murderers and bring them to justice as soon as possible,” the statement said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said his party is also pushing for resolution of the shooting.
“I condemn the activities of these killers and urge the authorities to find the perpetrators,” he said.
A memorial ceremony for the victims was held Saturday at Svay Dangkum pagoda. There, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith and Prampi Makara District Governor Sron Srun told reporters police are working hard to make arrests.
Khim Sambor and Khat Sarinpheata were shot Friday about 7 pm, district police and witnesses said. The pair was leaving Olympic Stadium on a motorbike, headed northeast on Monireth Boulevard when two men on another motorbike overtook them and fired five shots with a handgun, said Yim Symony, chief of the Prampi Makara district police.
Khim Sambor, 47, was shot in the back and abdomen. Khat Sarinpheata, a university student, was shot in the chest, where a bullet punctured a lung.
The shooting happened in front of the series of makeshift shoe and sandal stores along Monireth Boulevard, across the street from Preaputh pagoda. Once the shots were fired, Khim Sambor and Khat Sarinpheata careened about 10 meters on their motorbike before skidding off the side of the road, said Ya San, 31, whose shoe stall is a few meters away from where the men landed in a heap.
Police arrived about 10 minutes after the shooting happened, Ya San said, and an ambulance from Bopha Meas medical clinic arrived five minutes later. But it was too late for Khim Sambor, who died at the scene. Khat Sarinpheata was initially brought to Bopha Meas, then transferred to Calmette Hospital, where he died at about 12:45 am Saturday, said his mother, Lay Heang.
Yim Symony said police are trying to piece together who and what caused the attack by collecting statements from the shoe sellers.
Investigators believe the killers were on either a Suzuki Smash or Viva-model motorbike, but there are no suspects yet, he said, and the bulk of the investigation will wait until after the funerals out of respect for the family’s mourning time.