The sketched face of a man police suspect killed union leader Chea Vichea was published on the front page of dozens of newspapers on Tuesday. But the newspaper vendors who were present when Chea Vichea was shot dead said they were not the source of the killer’s description.
Var Sothy, 36, who runs the newspaper stall where Chea Vichea died, said she was reading 1 meter away from the union leader when he was shot.
“But I didn’t tell the police that I saw the appearance of the suspect,” she said, puzzled, on Monday. “How can the police draw the suspect?”
Var Sothy said police questioned her Thursday and Friday, but she did not offer them any details about the killer’s face.
Deputy Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov on Monday released a drawing of a man in his mid-20s who, police say, gunned down Chea Vichea at the newsstand on the corner of Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 51 Thursday.
An outspoken union leader, Chea Vichea haggled with garment factories over wages and working conditions. He was also a Sam Rainsy Party supporter who had called for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation.
Several potential witnesses working within sight of the crime scene said police never questioned them.
A food vendor across the street from where Chea Vichea was killed said police didn’t talk to her. But even if they did, she said, she wouldn’t tell them what she saw.
“Although I know, I will not say because killers now kill people just like a rat and a cat,” the vendor said, requesting anonymity.
“I thought maybe the gangster or the children were using firecrackers. But then the killer rushed out and Chea Vichea fell,” she said, adding that she saw only the killer’s back.
Street 51 was unusually quiet the morning of Chea Vichea’s death, newspaper and food sellers said Monday. They attributed the lull in traffic to the Chinese New Year’s holiday.
“[The gunshots] sounded like a firecracker. But I knew something happened because everyone started to run,” said an 18-year-old vendor who identified herself only as “Adan.”
She and more than 10 other potential witnesses said the police investigation did not include them—echoing claims by witnesses of the 1999 fatal shooting of film star Piseth Pilika. Dozens of vendors near where the actress was shot later said police never questioned them. There have been no arrests in that slaying.
Heng Pov said Tuesday evening he could not reveal who police consulted for the sketch of the suspect. Earlier Tuesday, he declined to talk about his investigation. “I will talk about everything when the investigation is over,” he said. “Maybe next week.”
Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua, who is also minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, said she doubted the validity of the sketch. “They always offer sketches before they come up with a story. But if you add two and two together, it doesn’t come up with four. It comes up with zero,” she said.
Bertrand Ramcharan, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanded in a statement Monday that the government conduct a fair investigation.
“A thorough and impartial investigation must be publicly established and undertaken, identifying both those who are immediately responsible for the killing of Chea Vichea, as well as those who ordered it,” Ramcharan said.