US ‘Welcome’ To Investigate Chea Vichea

Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has told US Ambassador Charles Ray that a team from the US will be allowed to review the controversial investigation into the killing of union leader Chea Vichea, according to the Interior Ministry spokesman.

“We welcome them,” Khieu Sopheak said Sunday.

He added that the US team will have a specific mandate.

“We allow the US to work only in two areas,” he said.

The US officials are authorized to investigate the two suspects who are currently jailed for the murder and to judge the reliability of the numerous alibis offered in their defense, the ministry spokesman said.

The US team’s mission is to determine whether the conduct of the investigation has been “right or wrong,” Khieu Sopheak said.

But US Embassy spokesman David Gainer on Sunday again denied the reports of embassy involvement in the investigation.

“Despite reports to the contrary, the US Embassy has not participated in the investigation and is not presently participating in the investigation,” Gainer said.

In recent weeks, officials, including Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Suon Chheangly, have said that the US has stepped into the investigation, which at one stage was called “proper and professional” by Ambassador Ray but has since elicited outcries from several human rights groups.

The US Embassy claims it has “maintained contact” with government officials in its desire to see an investigation that identifies the people behind the killing. The embassy has declined to elaborate on that contact.

Asked Sunday if US officials will arrive in Cambodia to participate in the investigation, Gainer said, “As far as I know, no.”

Gainer said he could not comment on whether the ambassador had met with Sar Kheng in recent days.

TVK on Saturday night broadcast clips of the Friday meeting between the two officials, who were also joined by National Police Director General Hok Lundy.

In 1997, the Interior Ministry requested and received assistance from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation after a US citizen was injured when grenades were thrown at an opposition rally that killed at least 13 and left more than 100 injured.

Chea Vichea’s partner, Chea Kimny, expressed delight Sunday that the US would aid the murder investigation.

“I believe the US will find the real killers and the people who are behind the murder,” she said.

Chea Kimny has voiced doubt that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the suspects who police paraded before reporters on Jan 29, are the killers.

She has filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court seeking $500,000 in compensation from the true perpetrators, if they are caught.

Var Sothy, owner of the newsstand where Chea Vichea was slain Jan 22, is scheduled to meet with the case’s investigating judge today .

(Additional reporting by Porter Barron)

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