One man was arrested yesterday following the beating death of a Sam Rainsy Party commune official in Kandal province, amid competing claims from police and the opposition party over whether the killing was politically motivated.
The 64-year-old Ouk Chhanteak, second commune councillor in Kien Svay district’s Chhoeu Teal commune, was bludgeoned to death at around 10pm on Wednesday evening as he returned home from patrolling the area, SRP officials said. His body was reportedly dumped roughly one kilometre from the site where he was attacked, with his motorbike, camera and telephone having been stolen.
Kien Svay district police chief Pa Sam Eth said yesterday that one of three suspects in the case had been arrested yesterday afternoon, adding that police believe the incident was a robbery that was unrelated to politics.
“The suspect we arrested already admitted in front of us that he and another two men really robbed the victim for his motorbike,” Pa Sam Eth said. “Now we know the identities of the other two and we are investigating to arrest them.”
The SRP alleged, however, that the murder was connected to Ouk Chhanteak’s work on behalf of the opposition. “The murder was related to [a] political case because Mr Ouk Chhantak was the most popular SRP second commune councillor in his commune and would become a commune chief in [the] upcoming commune election [in] 2012,” the SRP cabinet said in a statement yesterday.
“The Sam Rainsy Party would like to appeal to the authorities at all levels to take action to arrest the murderers.”
Chan Cheng, an SRP lawmaker representing Kandal, said Ouk Chhanteak had always “worked to serve the people without taking money”.
“Three days before his murder, he said the SRP was not worried about the upcoming election because he will be elected commune chief,” Chan Cheng said. “He is very popular in Chhoeu Teal commune.”
Chan Cheng added that Ouk Chhanteak’s killers had not removed a pair of rings from his fingers, expressing doubt that the case was a simply a violent theft. But Pa Sam Eth said the missing motorbike was clear evidence of a robbery, dismissing Chan Cheng’s allegations.
“It is his right to say that, but based on our assessment, we see that this case is a robbery,” Pa Sam Eth said. “We are not indifferent and we are going to find the murderers.”
Men Makara, an investigator based in Kandal for the local rights group Adhoc, said an investigation is required before a determination is made on whether or not the killing was politically motivated.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH