Authorities in Chhouk district, Kampot province have released two suspects in Friday’s killings of a Funcinpec commune candidate and her husband, while Banteay Meas district officials in the same province say they are closing in on a suspect they believe shot and killed a Funcinpec village chief hopeful Thursday.
Authorities in Svay Rieng province have identified and intend to arrest a suspect in the shooting death Saturday of a Sam Rainsy Party commune candidate, provincial police said Monday.
The two suspects released in Chhouk district, identified as “Net” and “Nang,” were detained briefly Sunday. Kampot police called them to their office to answer questions about the killing of Funcinpec commune election candidate Long Phon and her husband, Soun Kroeun, an election investigator for Funcinpec. The two were shot to death Friday in Kro Haung village, said a Kampot policeman who declined to be identified.
The suspects were cousins of the victims, according to the policeman.
“The two suspects were just called into the office to describe the incident,” he said. “They were not involved, and they were released after 24 hours.”
Although provincial authorities have made no arrests yet in any of the weekend shootings that left four dead, they say the killings most likely stemmed from personal disputes or from a robbery.
According to Kampot authorities, police have identified the individual suspected of killing Ngoun Chroun, the female Funcinpec commune candidate shot to death on Thursday in Prey Tonle village, Banteay Meas district. The officials are currently waiting for the provincial court to issue a warrant before they arrest the suspect.
A police official in Kampot said the suspect shot Ngoun Chroun because the victim’s husband, who was wounded in the attack, had once been business partners with the suspect and the two had a business-related argument as recently as last month.
Ngoun Chroun hoped to be appointed Prey Tonle village chief if the Funcinpec Party won a majority of seats in Prey Tonle commune in the Feb 3 elections.
Officials also said they thought Long Phon and her husband Soun Kroeun were killed because of a personal dispute. Soun Kroeun allegedly hired a hit man to kill an unidentified person in 1988, a Kampot official claimed. Soun Kroeun was detained in a Kampot prison from 1988 to 1992, and when he left some people may still have been angry with him, the official said.
Police said Touch Sean, the 42-year-old Sam Rainsy Party commune candidate who was shot to death Saturday in Doun Leb village, Svay Rieng province, was killed during a robbery.
A Sam Rainsy Party official, however, contended that the killing of Touch Sean—and possibly the Funcinpec candidates—was politically motivated.
“Touch Sean was killed because she was a commune election candidate for the Sam Rainsy Party,” said Phi Thach, cabinet chief for the opposition party.
Phi Thach said Touch Sean, who was reserve candidate number 15 for Kork Pring commune, had an argument with Ngon Sao, the CPP village chief for Kork Pring, over a Sam Rainsy Party sign Touch Sean erected in front of her house.
Village authorities had also allegedly threatened Touch Sean on several occasions because she advocated that people should try to change the current Kork Ping commune administration.
Although Funcinpec National Assembly Lawmaker Nan Sy would not comment directly on the two Funcinpec commune election candidates shot to death over the weekend, he hinted that perhaps these killings were also politically motivated.
“Who has the guns? The authorities, the police and the army—these are the ones who have the guns,” Nan Sy said.
Yi Kosalvathanak, monitoring officer for the human rights group Adhoc, said they are completing their investigation into the Long Phon and Soun Kroeun killings and will begin their investigation into the shootings of Touch Sean and Ngoun Chroun on Tuesday.
“It is difficult to say what the reason for these killings is, but this is not the kind of killing an ordinary person would do,” Yi Kosalvathanak said. “But my concern is not what the reason for the killings is—it does not matter if it was political. What is important is what effect this killing has on other candidates. These killings show that it is a threat to be a political candidate during election time.”
Yi Kosalvathanak is especially concerned that three of the victims were women with political hopes, especially considering that all three political parties pushed to have women candidates on the ballot.
“This sends a message to women candidates that if they run, they might face intimidation or death,” he said.