Truth Behind Candidate’s Killing Elusive

svay chuk commune, Kompong Chhnang district – Perhaps it’s true, as local authorities and even Prince Norodom Ranariddh say, that the killer of Funcinpec commune election candidate Mean Soy acted on a personal vendetta.

Even so, the most calculating partisan could not have chosen a better time, place and target for a political assassination than Tra­peng Mateh village on the eve­ning of July 17.

Mean Soy, 57, the Funcinpec chairman for the Svay Chuk commune, had just finished three days of traveling around the commune in preparation for a major political meeting with Funcinpec activists from six different communes scheduled for the next day.

His wife, Rith Korn, was preparing dinner for five Funcinpec activists who were sitting in the family’s one-room, thatched-roof house when she heard gunfire. Meas Soy had been shot as he climbed up the house’s stairway.

“I rushed to the door and I saw he had fallen. Blood had spattered onto the wall and in the house. I began to shout, please help my husband, he’s been shot” Rith Korn said.

It was too late. Rith Korn had lost a husband, and Svay Chuk—which had voted Funcinpec in both 1993 and 1998—had lost its top candidate for commune chief.

Provincial police announced Thursday that they had arrested government soldier Phann Tong Hok, 28, in the shooting on Sunday. Deputy provincial police chief Prak Vuthy said the suspect was taking vengeance on Mean Soy because he was having an affair with his mother, Sao Lim.

That alleged motive appears to be as puzzling to the victim’s family as to the perpetrator’s. Meanwhile, Funcinpec activists in Svay Chuk are running scared.

“I’m still worried about my security, and I want to give up. My friend was killed so easily. I don’t know what I will do with Funcinpec,” said Un Soeun, a Funcinpec activist who lives near Mean Soy.

Un Soeun said villagers had been warned not to join Funcinpec by local authorities even before the killing. Now, “there’s no more campaign activity. People stay at home and stay in at night.”

Mean Soy was chief of his village from 1979 until 1991, when Khmer Rouge harassment drove him out of the job.

“He would have to hide because the Khmer Rouge was always coming to take him away. He would leave the house and sleep on roofs,” Rith Korn said.

His uncle, Meas Pich, took over the post in 1992. And Mean Soy, swept up by the excitement of King Norodom Sihanouk’s return to Cambodia, joined the royalist Funcinpec.

“He’s very popular in the area,” said his son-in-law, Kam Soth. “People hoped he would be chief of the commune because he helped people when he was village chief.”

Kam Soth said Mean Soy and his uncle argued on the morning of the shooting. But Meas Pich said it was just a drunken misunderstanding. Meas Pich says political intimidation is not a problem in the village.

Rith Korn—who was first informed of the arrest in her husband’s case by a reporter Thursday—said her family has been longtime friends with Phann Tong Hok’s family. She said Sao Lim and her husband had been friends since they were children. But she didn’t believe the affair story.

“I never heard of this affair. It’s impossible because she’s very old, too. And if there was an affair, other people in the village would know about it,” she said.

Phann Tong Hok’s family was equally disbelieving. His wife and sister claimed Thursday that Phann Tong Hok was in their home, just a few hundred meters away from Mean Soy’s home, during the shooting. They said neither they or their neighbors had heard of the alleged love affair.

Phann Tong Hok was a Khmer Rouge soldier before defecting to the government in 1996, his family said. But a small sampling of local villagers described him as a gentle man.

“He visits us when he visits his wife. He never has guns with him or an argument with people. He’s quiet, but he smiles and he’s friendly,” one villager said.

News of the arrest on Thursday prompted government officials and human rights groups to take sides on the killing’s motive. Funcinpec party chief Prince Norodom Ranariddh praised police work that led to arrests in the cases of both Mean Soy and Soeung Sam, a Funcinpec commune candidate from Pursat province who survived a July 1 shooting.

“I believe these [cases] are not politically motivated at all,” the prince said.

Kompong Chhnang Governor Sou Phirin reiterated an earlier contention that the motive was personal, not political.

But human rights group Adhoc claimed the opposite. It said the government must take strong action to discourage violence.

“We have finished our investigation, and we have concluded that this killing was politically motivated,” said Yi Kosalvathanak, head of monitoring and investigations for Adhoc. “Our observation, based on cases so far, is that the government always says it is not political but a personal dispute, or black magic, or something like that.”

Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Jody McPhillips


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