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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fear still haunts Kampong Cham commune

Fear still haunts Kampong Cham commune

Fear still haunts Kampong Cham commune

fear.jpg
fear.jpg

Soy Tha, widow of Funcinpec candidate Thon Phally, points out where her husband's killers stood.

Sitting on her bamboo floor, Soy Tha describes how her husband was shot dead by two

men November 14 last year. Her husband's blood still stains the wood, his face staring

out from a photo frame next to an urn that holds his ashes. Her face is drawn.

"I want to tell everyone exactly who killed my husband, and if someone wants

to come and take my life, please take it. If I try to hide what happened then the

killers will carry on doing this forever," she says. She turns to look at her

daughters. "But I feel sorry for my children - who will then look after them?"

Tha's husband, Thon Phally, was a Funcinpec candidate for Srolop commune in Kampong

Cham, the province that registered the highest number of political killings in the

run-up to Cambodia's February 2002 commune elections.

Phally's killers were bold: after nightfall they walked up to the house, shone a

flashlight in Phally's face, and shot him. Tha says she recognized them clearly.

The killer, she says, was Ean Saveth, alias Veth, who is the deputy police chief

in nearby Longieng commune. Veth's father was Srolop's commune chief before the election,

and has retained his position. The man carrying the flashlight, she says, was Seth,

a police colleague of Veth's.

"I shouted at them after they shot him," she says. "'You have killed

him - you are beasts. Why don't you kill us all?' They did not reply, and simply

walked away behind my house."

After almost two months of inaction, the men were suspended from their official duties

January 12 by Hok Lundy, head of the national police. They were asked to stay at

the provincial police headquarters in Kampong Cham town. On March 5 they were arrested.

"If they are released by the court, then they will say we unjustifiably accused

them, but I saw their faces very clearly," says Tha, pointing to the ladder

where the killers stood.

"For me everything is finished, because my husband, who was a Funcinpec activist,

has already been killed," she says. "But I should help the future activists

regain their confidence."

Support for Funcinpec in Srolop commune was badly dented by the killing, says Sek

Phat, a Funcinpec commune candidate in Angkor Chea village. He says the party lost

more than half its support as a direct result of Phally's killing, whose death was

used as an example for others. In Kampong Cham, intimidation clearly worked.

"I have to try to rebuild support even if they threaten to kill me as they did

to Phally. The people told me not to be afraid of the tiger," says Phat, comparing

the communes' powerful residents with one of nature's most feared creatures. "But

I am still afraid of tigers because they eat humans. Staying alive in the tiger's

cage depends on whether or not the tiger is hungry."

A human rights worker says the murder case was "near-hopeless".

"No matter what happens with Seth and Veth now, the Funcinpec [supporters] in

Srolop are in trouble. If Seth and Veth are released by the court, there is a big

risk that they will go back to Srolop and revenge themselves on those who brought

the case against them," the rights worker says. "And if they are convicted

and sent to prison there is an equally big risk that their friends and relatives

in Srolop will do the revenging for them."

The authorities, and in particular the police, have been strangely reluctant to take

Soy Tha's eye-witness testimony into consideration. Despite that, the first deputy

governor of the province, Funcinpec's Thav Kimlong, remains confident justice will

be done.

"We have all the proof we need, and the human rights people have worked very

hard helping with this case," he says "The killers cannot escape the law."

His confidence is encouraging, but past human rights abuses show that killers do

walk free from Cambodia's weak courts.

"Our biggest point of interest right now - other than the safety of the victims

in Srolop - is how the court handles the upcoming trial of Seth and Veth," the

rights worker says.

November 14, 2001, saw two politically-related killings in Kampong Cham. The other

was of Sam Rainsy Party activist Phoung Sophath by four men.

Youn Samoeurn, former chief of the Srolop commune militia, was arrested for the killing

and is in jail awaiting trial. Two others involved fled after arrest warrants were

issued November 23.

One was Youn Thorny, a Srolop commune militia member; the other was Chorn Rotha,

a military sergeant in Tbong Khmum district, where Srolop commune is located.

The action taken against the men took place while international attention was on

Cambodia. Now that has died down, there are concerns that activists from Funcinpec

and the SRP could be in for a difficult time once more. Pen Kha, a Funcinpec activist,

certainly thinks so.

"I think that they will be more cruel and kill whoever they want to," he

says. "If that happens, those villagers who are Funcinpec members will flee

the village."

Sin Soeun, another Funcinpec commune council member, appealed to those in power to

ensure there were no further killings.

"We call on the courts and the human rights workers to make sure the trial is

conducted properly. If not our people will get scared," says Soeun. "We

have no power, but we love democracy, so please don't kill us."

Funcinpec's Phat predicts that if the problems of election-related violence are not

solved, there will be further intimidation and killings in the run-up to next year's

general election.

Election violence in Cambodia traditionally has a long lead period: candidates from

Funcinpec and the SRP were being killed more than a year before the local elections

were held. With a national election planned for mid-2003, some observers are concerned

that a new wave of violence and intimidation could begin soon.

The SRP reckons it has already started: one of its activists, former commune council

candidate Ham Bun Ly, 51, was shot in his legs in Kampong Cham March 3.

His assailant fired at him as he walked home with his 13-year-old daughter after

a religious ceremony in Srolop commune. An SRP press release spoke of the "unceasing

political violence" against party members.

One observer questioned the rationale behind shooting members of a party that fared

so poorly in Kampong Cham's commune elections.

"Maybe there is a message to the electorate here: don't relax yet, there is

another [election] to come," the observer says. "It is rather concerning

to think that political violence in connection with the 2003 national election may

have already begun."

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