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Convictions in Kampot commune killing

FOUR men have been convicted in Kampot Provincial Court for the June 3, 2000 murder

of a Funcinpec commune elections candidate and his wife.

Kampot Provincial Court Judge Kem Ravy on March 15 sentenced Laboeuk CPP commune

chief Im Nan and former Laboeuk militia member Rith Kha to 17 years in prison for

the murder of Prak Chhoeun and his wife Doung Meas.

Chhoeun and Meas were gunned down with AK-47s while sleeping in a hut next to their

Kampot rice field.

Two other suspects, Keo Khan and Svay Run, were sentenced in absentia to prison terms

of 15 years and 12 years respectively.

The four are also required to pay a compensation claim of six million riels to family

members of the victims.

The March 15 verdict, which followed one-day trial proceedings on March 12, was closely

monitored by human rights organizations due to its apparently overt political motivations.

Nan was widely suspected of having ordered the killing to eliminate a potential rival

for the long delayed commune elections. Chhoeun, a popular and respected member of

the Laboeuk commune, had been nominated as the Funcinpec commune election candidate

just days before his death.

Three witnesses - a soldier, a policeman and chief of Laboeuk commune's militia -

testified during the trial that Nan had made numerous unsuccessful attempts over

the last few years to hire them to kill Chhoeun.

However the judge strenuously distanced his verdict from any linkage to a political

motive for the killings.

"Our investigation proved that the evidence pointed to a revenge [motive] because

the victim was thought to have been a witch," said Ravy. "It was not a

political assassination".

Human rights observers at the trial were critical of the verdict's avoidance of a

possible political motive.

"Children of the victim are unhappy with the verdict because they claim that

their parents were victims of a political killing connected with their father's candidacy

for the upcoming commune elections," Adhoc spokesperson Yi Kosalvathanak said.

Kosalvathanak said the children rejected allegations in the court's finding that

the murders had been committed to avenge suspected "black magic" wrought

by Soeun and his wife.

"I think that this trial was incomplete because the court didn't mention [the

factor of] political intimidation," Kosalvathanak said.

Kosalvathanak's concerns were echoed by Sidney Jones, Executive Director of Human

Rights Watch (HRW).

"Without recognition of the political underpinnings of the crime, the deterrent

impact of Im Nan's conviction is going to be lost," Jones was quoted in a HRW

press release. "Official impunity for criminal acts will only end when the full

facts of cases like this one are publicly aired."

Funcinpec Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry, however, expressed satisfaction with

the court proceedings saying that the court was legally unable to address a possible

political motivation to the killing.

"In our law there is no article for the punishment of [crimes of] political

assassination," Hockry told the Post. "I think that the trial was fair

and is a message to everyone to cease...the desire for political assassinations."

Human Rights Watch has documented attacks against Funcinpec and opposition Sam Rainsy

Party commune election candidates including the separate murders of two SRP members

in Kampong Cham on Feb 10, 2000 and Aug 17, 2000.

The violence is widely believed to be linked to a reluctance of CPP commune chiefs

to surrender two decades of control of the Kingdom's grassroots in the coming 2002

commune elections.

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