Two men have been arrested in Kompong Speu province for last week’s shooting death of a popular Sam Rainsy Party activist who was to be a candidate in February’s commune elections, police said.
Ter Vann Chhum, a 26 year old commune police officer, was arrested Thursday, and 35-year-old farmer Saing Rin was arrested Friday morning, according to Chea Vuth, deputy police chief of Kompong Speu province.
Both have confessed to the murder of Uch Horn last Saturday near Uch Horn’s home in Kok commune, Bavet district, Chea Vuth said.
“They said they were not involved in politics,” Chea Vuth said. “I wouldn’t be afraid to say it was politically motivated if that were the case, but I am sure it was a personal dispute.”
The AK-47 assault rifle used to kill Uch Horn belonged to Ter Vann Chhum, and was lent to Saing Rin with the knowledge that Saing Rin planned to kill Uch Horn, Chea Vuth said. Ter Van Chhum told police he had been searching for someone to kill Uch Horn.
Saing Rin confessed that he shot Uch Horn 16 times, using all his bullets, according to Chea Vuth. Saing Rin said he then buried the gun and moved Uch Horn’s body with Ter Vann Chhum’s help.
Both men could face 10 to 15 years in jail, according to Ven Voeun, chief prosecutor of Kompong Speu province.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak also said the killing was not political. He said Uch Horn sent a statement to the governor of Kompong Speu complaining that villagers had accused him of being a sorcerer and were giving him menacing looks.
“We have that statement in hand,” he said. “So we know it was in no relation to politics.”
But human rights groups had received reports of political intimidation from Uch Horn in recent months. Rights workers who had interviewed him said his murder was likely political because it came so close to his joining the party on April 24.
Shortly after becoming a Sam Rainsy Party member, the popular Uch Horn left for a five-day training session and returned to find rumors in his CPP-controlled commune that he was a sorcerer.
“After the arrests, hundreds of villagers demanded we release them because they think Uch Horn was a black magic man,” Chea Vuth said. “The men thought that killing a sorcerer is not against the law.”
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said it was “ridiculous” for police to say that Uch Horn’s murder was not political.
“The man joined the party in April and was accused straight away of being a sorcerer,” he said. “I think it is ridiculous for the officials who are supposed to do a job to cover up like this. I think the police are not reliable.”
Neighbors recently told Uch Horn that he would be killed, human rights groups said last week. On June 18, Uch Horn came to Phnom Penh to file reports with the UN human rights office and human rights agencies Adhoc and Licadho.
Adhoc director Thun Saray would not comment on the arrests Friday. He said his group would make a statement in the next few days.
The Sam Rainsy Party frequently claims that its activists in the provinces are being threatened, beaten or killed for political reasons. Most of the cases are disregarded by authorities as personal disputes. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that political intimidation does not exist in Cambodia.
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