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Senseless Kratie killing reflects a bitter truth

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A Cambodian soldier blocks United Nations personnel from visiting the scene of a fatal shooting in Kratie province last week. Photograph: Heng Chivoan

Dear Editor,

The savage killing in Kratie seven days ago of Heng Chantha, a 14-year-old girl, by soldiers and police comes three weeks after the murder of Chut Wutty, Cambodia’s most respected environmentalist.

Her killing comes less than two weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an immediate suspension of economic land concessions.

More than two million hectares of Cambodia’s arable land and one million hectares of our national forests and parks are part of these concessions, signed by the hand of the Prime Minister.

The military-style operation in Kratie was aided by a helicopter.

The authorities’ version of the operation was justified by deputy prime minister Sar Kheng as necessary to crack down on an association for a democratic movement and for the arrest of its ringleaders.

The order from the top is clear: aim to kill.

The real reason for this military-style operation was the protection of economic concessions against villagers who had organised to defend their land, which the company had encroached on.

The Kratie operation clearly has a message for activists, community leaders, human-rights defenders and all those who dare to stand up against the government: you are risking your life.

It was meant to send a chilling message, but it shows the desperate manoeuvring of those in power as they are consumed by greed.

This greed has led them to eliminate their political opponents, to privatise the police and armed forces, to control the judiciary system, and to silence the international community.

The US State Department put out a respectable statement following the killing in Kratie.

There are high hopes that action towards the revision of US aid to Cambodia’s military will be considered. Furthermore, it is necessary for the aid community to revise its policies and strategies of aid.

Cambodia is not on the right track. When raw killings and the violent crushing of activists and human-rights defenders are allowed to occur with total impunity, our country is in immediate need of rescue – and that can happen only when free and fair elections are allowed to take place.

The 2008 European Union recommendations for free and fair elections have been endorsed by political parties and local organisations.

Further delay in reforming electoral laws and establishing a neutral electoral committee will defer the arrival of democracy and the rule of law.

The killings must stop.

Mu Sochua, MP
Sam Rainsy Party Battambang

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