Civil society members say they were surprised and disappointed by US Ambassador Charles Ray’s remarks that the investigation of Chea Vichea’s killing has thus far been “professional and proper.”
“We are surprised…. It is too early for this comment,” said Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development. “What he said means that it is right and the investigation is finished.”
Ray’s comments were indicative of a US Embassy that has taken a “soft” stance on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, Chea Vannath said.
“Former US ambassadors were strict…but [Ray] is very diplomatic and his stance is not firm but soft to the government,” she said.
Ray was speaking in an interview Monday, days after Hok Lundy’s National Police arrested two men in the killing of union leader Chea Vichea.
Ray said he had met with co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng and commended the arrests as a “positive sign,” while urging police to carry on with their investigation.
But the arrests last week of Sok Sam Oeun, 36, and Born Samnang, 23, have been criticized by legal experts, rights advocates and Alliance of Democrats politicians who say the arrests were made without serious evidence.
Those groups and others, including the union that Chea Vichea once led, have called on the international community to ensure a proper investigation into the assassination, which they believe is political.
Police have said Sok Sam Oeun was arrested based on the testimony of Born Samnang, but have not disclosed what evidence led them to suspect either man.
“What [Ray] said means that police have really tried to investigate, but they made the arrests through many wrong legal procedures, and there is a general lack of investigation,” said Chan Soveth, a human rights investigator with local NGO Adhoc.
“The US ambassador does not know Cambodia,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project who shares the same name as one of the suspects, said Ray had no basis for his commendations.
“I don’t know what his comments could have been based on,” he said. “Politicians and lawmakers have different ideas.”