LAND disputes now seem to be the prime motivation for at least three recent murders
that were initially said to be political.
In the highest-profile case, two people were killed and three injured in a grenade
attack in Takeo province.
One survivor, Khieu Rama, is a longtime activist for the Son Sann Party, and the
party denounced the April 25 attack as politically motivated. A party statement noted
that the day before the attack, "the local authority forced Mr Khieu Rama to
give his thumbprint to be a member of the CPP, but Mr Khieu Rama refused to do so".
Government officials in Phnom Penh, however, have claimed that the attack was prompted
by a land dispute.
Rama admitted as much, but said that "the dispute mixes with politics,"
detailing a long-running argument over his sister's land.
The grenade was thrown not at his house but at his sister's - although he was there
at the time. Rama said that the family had begun building on the disputed land only
the day before the attack. His sister, Khieu Kei, and her husband Khieu Noun were
Takeo first deputy governor Chhim Theam said four suspects have been arrested, "but
I am not really sure they are the right people," he said.
"I'm not sure whether it was a land dispute, or over a lady, or political. But
in Takeo we have over 1,000 cases of land or lady disputes, but nobody throws grenades
against them, only against the people who are involved with politics."
Rights workers say the motive was probably the land dispute, but that a political
connection could not be ruled out entirely.
The April 20 murder of Ngoun Hoeung, a CPP activist in Kampot, was also called non-political
by rights groups. Hoeung was surrounded and shot by four men; Kampot police say they
have arrested two suspects.
CPP government officials initially claimed that Hoeun was killed for political reasons.
However, rights groups said they were puzzled by this assertion. "Every villager,
every family member, every person we spoke to said this was a land dispute,"
said one investigator.
Kampot police chief Seng Kokhong said the killing was over land, and that one of
those arrested was the village chief, who was also CPP.
Rights workers are also investigating the killing of Unh Vang, reportedly a Funcinpec
member, after he was arrested for theft in Kandal on Apr 12.