US Official Cautions About Labeling Slaying

US Ambassador Charles Ray said a police investigation into the shooting of union leader Chea Vichea was “professional and proper” thus far and that it is premature to label the killing political.

In an interview Monday at the US Embassy, Ray called the arrests of two suspects last week a “positive sign” and said he had urged co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng in a recent meeting to follow through with the investigation until it uncovers whatever plot may be behind the killing.

The government should “make sure the conduct of the investigation complies with international standards, respects the rights of the accused, and goes fully into what’s behind the crime,” he said.

He added that he would continue to watch the investigation conducted by Director General Hok Lundy’s National Police, and that he would not speculate on the suspects’ guilt or motive. “It’s premature to call the kill­ings political. They are killings,” Ray said.

Opposition groups, including the Free Trade Union of Workers that Chea Vichea once headed, have denounced the arrests of Sok Sam Oeun, 36, and Born Samnang, 23, as a scheme to mask the real killers and called on the international community to pressure the CPP-led government into conducting a more transparent investigation.

Those same groups have said the killing was tied to politics.

Phnom Penh police have said the two suspects, arrested Wednes­day, were offered $5,000 to kill Chea Vichea but have not disclosed what evidence led them to those suspects or whom they believe masterminded the plot.

Chea Vichea, a Sam Rainsy Party activist who led many boisterous rallies in the capital and was an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government, was shot dead Jan 22 as he read a newspaper outside Wat Langka. He was 40.

Ray said a lively union movement in Cambodia should continue to grow, despite the loss of its most driven advocate. “I don’t think any movement, if it is truly a popular movement, is that dependent on the presence of one individual,” he said. “To speculate from [Chea Vichea’s killing] that it would be the death of the independent labor movement disparages his achievement.”

Regarding the political standoff that has paralyzed the government’s law-making body, Ray said the US would not take sides and that it would not involve itself directly in talks between the CPP and the Alliance of Demo­crats.

A Ministry of Interior official said Sunday that Sar Kheng  re­jected an offer from Ray to assist in the negotiations. “Democracy is something that grows very slowly…. In the meantime, you need to have peace and stability for it to take hold,” Ray said.

“Cambodians need to work hard to find nonviolent ways to re­solve their differences…. [Lead­ers] need to look at what’s in the best interest of Cambodia at large, rather than at personal or party interests,” he said.


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