Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Cambodian charged with murder of government critic

AP, PHNOM PENH

Mourners burn incense to pay their respects to government critic Kem Ley at a Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, yesterday.

Photo: AP

A former Cambodian soldier was yesterday charged with murder in the killing of a prominent government critic, a brazen attack that has raised accusations of a political conspiracy.

Oeut Ang faces up to life in prison if convicted of killing Kem Ley, who was shot dead on Sunday in the capital, Phnom Penh.

He was arrested after being chased down by police.

During questioning, Oeut Ang told police that Kem Ley owed him US$3,000 and that he shot the well-known political analyst and government critic because of the dispute.

He also identified himself by the nickname Chuob Samlab, which in Cambodian means “meet and kill.” Court officials said the nickname would be used in documents for now.

Oeut Ang was also charged with possession of an illegal weapon during his appearance at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

“After questioning, examining the documents and with the evidence present, the prosecutor of [the] Phnom Penh Municipal Court has decided to charge the accused with premeditated murder and illegal possession of [a] weapon,” court spokesman Ly Sophana said.

In an interview on Tuesday, Oeut Ang’s wife said her husband was too poor to have loaned the victim US$3,000.

She also said he had never mentioned Kem Ley’s name before.

She said her husband was a former Khmer Rouge soldier, as well as a former government soldier.

Opposition parties and Global Witness, a British activist group whose work was occasionally the subject of Kem Ley’s radio commentaries, have suggested a political conspiracy behind the killing.

Kem Ley’s body is being kept at a Buddhist temple until his funeral on Tuesday next week to allow his admirers and friends to pay their respects.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, often a target of Kem Ley’s criticism, has promised a thorough investigation into the killing, which came at a time of political tension that began last year with legal and other pressures by the government on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Kem Ley was widely known because he was frequently heard on the popular Cambodian-language services of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, US government-funded services that are among the few independent news sources in the nation. He was also frequently quoted in the nation’s handful of independent newspapers.

One of his most recent commentaries was about a report issued last week by Global Witness that alleged that Hun Sen and his family had enriched themselves and kept power through corruption.

Kem Ley is the most prominent Cambodian government critic to be killed since trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.

“This outrageous act of violence must be thoroughly, transparently and independently investigated,” Transparency International said in a statement yesterday.

It said it is also “concerned at increasing restrictions placed upon civil society organizations and harassment of activists in the country.”

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