The latest line of inquiry into the double slaying of SRP-affiliated journalist Khim Sambor and his son suggests that the killings were motivated by revenge rather than politics, police claimed Wednesday.
However, a relative of the slain father and son and opposition party lawmakers quickly rejected Wednesday the police claim that the killings were simply a case of personal reprisal.
With police having met for the first time with a representative of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation last Friday, Phnom Penh Municipality Police Chief Touch Naruth said progress was being made in the hunt for the gunmen who shot to death Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper reporter Khim Sambor, 47, and his son Khat Sarintheada, 21, near Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on July 11.
The FBI offered to assist in the investigation shortly after the shooting, and the Cambodian government accepted the offer last month.
Touch Naruth also claimed the FBI official had agreed that the killings were motivated by someone seeking revenge against the journalist’s son, Khat Sarintheada.
“The FBI is also convinced that the assassination was because of a revenge case,” he said.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson confirmed that an official from the FBI’s Phnom Penh Legal Attaché office had met with Cambodian police Friday, but would not comment on specifics of the investigation.
“I can confirm that our legal attaché was briefed by the police regarding this case and that he has requested two additional agents to assist in the investigation,” Johnson wrote by e-mail.
According to Touch Naruth, the initial investigation by police had established that Khat Sarintheada, who died hours after the attack, had told a relative immediately following the shooting that he had been targeted over something that the victim did not elaborate on.
Touch Naruth maintained that the public had been overly focused on Khim Sambor following the murders, which occurred during the lead up to the July 27 national election.
“We will continue to interview the witnesses,” Touch Naruth said, adding that though police have sketches of the suspects, they had not identified the killers.
Wednesday’s comments by Touch Naruth came as it emerged that the surviving family of Khim Sambor is currently in Sweden seeking political asylum.
A source close to the family, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that Khim Sambor’s wife, son and daughter had arrived in Sweden on Aug 31.
An official at the Swedish consulate in Phnom Penh could not confirm this Wednesday evening, while attempts to contact the migration office in the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok were unsuccessful.
Khim Rorang, a brother of Khim Sambor, dismissed Touch Naruth’s claims that the double slaying was motivated by revenge.
“It was a political assassination because [Khim Sambor] worked for an opposition newspaper,” he said, adding that Khat Sarintheada was not likely to have been involved with the kind of people who would have carried out such an attack. “My nephew was a gentle student,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Wednesday that his party would not accept any report from the Cambodian police on the murder until it was backed up officially by the FBI. “We would be more than happy to accept this explanation if the FBI go on record officially as agreeing with it,” he said. “But we do not trust the [Cambodian] police report.”
The FBI was involved in the investigation into the 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally that left more than a dozen dead and scores wounded, but no findings were ever released from that inquiry.
Dam Sith, who is the editor in chief of Moneaksekar Khmer, said he would not comment further on the case until the police actually arrested a suspect.