After two men from two different political parties were slain in the same Kompong Cham commune Wednesday night, party officials began launching accusations of political homicide and intimidation.
But police Sunday said the killings do not appear to be related to politics.
Authorities say the death of Sam Rainsy Party member Phuong Sophat, 34, was related to his alleged involvement in a rape and robbery on Aug 12, while the death of Funcinpec commune council candidate Thun Phally, 46, may have stemmed from an argument with a neighbor over a piece of land.
Both men were shot to death in separate villages in Srolop commune, Tbong Khmum district. The two killings bring to seven the number of possible political assassinations in the run-up to February’s commune council elections.
The first to die was Phuong Sophat, who was not a commune council candidate, but who had recently joined the Sam Rainsy Party. According to party officials, four men called him out of his house at 7:30 pm.
He came out to look at them and said he didn’t recognize any of them, witnesses said. One assailant drew a pistol and shot him twice; the four left without taking anything, said Yan Sokhann, the victim’s wife. The couple had three children and she is pregnant with a fourth.
Seng Sokhim, judicial police chief for Kompong Cham, said Phuong Sophat was being investigated on charges of being in a gang who raped and robbed a woman Aug 12.
The case is pending before the court, he said. Relatives of the alleged victim may have been seeking revenge, Seng Sokhim said.
Thon Phally, a father of seven, was shot inside his home just over an hour later, at 8:35 pm. Seng Sokhim said the victim’s wife, Say Sitha, told police Thon Phally had fought with his neighbors over a plot of land one week before the shooting.
The argument “was very big, with both parties trading insulting words and threatening to kill each other. I don’t know exactly the reason for this killing, but it could have come from that dispute,” Seng Sokhim said.
The killings come just as Peter Leuprecht, the UN’s top human rights monitor for Cambodia, visits again. Leuprecht, who was scheduled to arrive in Phnom Penh Sunday evening, has expressed “grave concern” over political violence.
While the Sam Rainsy Party issued statements condemning the killings, some Funcinpec leaders were more reticent.
You Hockry, Funcinpec co-minister of Interior, said Sunday he had visited the commune Saturday and both men appeared to have been shot by the same kind of weapon.
“I cannot say if these are political killings or not,” he said, because police are still investigating.
Another Funcinpec official called the case a political killing because one witness said the assailants asked Thon Phally if he was a Sam Rainsy Party member.
When Thon Phally replied he belonged to Funcinpec, the assailtant responded: “You Funcinpec members are just like the Sam Rainsy Party” before opening fire, the official claimed.