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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kem Ley’s family flees Cambodia

Bou Rachana, Kem Ley’s wife, holds a portrait of her husband as his funeral procession makes its way through the capital last month.
Bou Rachana, Kem Ley’s wife, holds a portrait of her husband as his funeral procession makes its way through the capital last month. Pha Lina

Kem Ley’s family flees Cambodia

The wife and children of slain political analyst Kem Ley have fled the country, people close to the family said yesterday, with one opposition member who has knowledge of their plans saying they would stay in a second country and seek asylum in the United States.

Bou Rachana, who is seven-months pregnant, and her four sons left Cambodia on Sunday, according to members of Ley’s funeral committee. Activist monk But Buntenh and Cambodia Youth Network director Tim Malay, both members of the committee and friends of the late analyst, said that the family was in a “safe place”.

Rachana has previously expressed a desire to leave Cambodia, saying she feared for her family’s welfare following her husband’s murder at a Phnom Penh gas station on July 10.

Speaking yesterday, Prince Sisowath Thomico said the family had left via Siem Reap for the second country – which the Post was asked to withhold out of concerns for her safety – with former Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Sang San arranging the trip and consulting the United Nation’s refugee office (UNHCR).

“[San] was the one who arranged everything with the UNHCR,” Thomico said.

Thomico added that the family would seek asylum in the US, but would not leave immediately.

“She will stay in [the second country] for some time just because she is pregnant, so she has to deliver her baby,” he said.

Reached yesterday, San would only say he had seen Rachana in Cambodia before her departure.

Citing confidentiality, Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR, declined to comment.

US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said that privacy reasons also precluded the embassy from confirming or denying whether an application was made.

Buntenh, the monk, said before leaving, Rachana had turned over responsibility for the traditional ceremony marking 100 days since Ley’s death to the committee.

“It’s not confirmed yet whether it will be held in Phnom Penh or in [Ley’s home province of Takeo],” he said. Ley’s brother, Kem Rithiseth, said his sister-in-law had last week visited her late husband’s grave in Takeo, where dozens of people still visit daily to pay their respects.

Although unaware of her whereabouts, Rithiseth said Rachana had wanted to go abroad because she felt unsafe living in Cambodia, and also for her children’s education. Ex-soldier Oeut Ang, 44, has been charged with Ley’s murder, claiming in a videotaped confession released only hours after the killing that he shot the analyst over a debt.

However, many – including the suspect’s family – were dismissive of the explanation. Given Ley’s high profile and anti-government criticism, it’s widely believed the killing was political.

Police have said they are continuing to investigate to find the “real killer”, however Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday declined to provide any update on the probe.

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