THREE men - at least one of them a Khmer Nation Party (KNP) member and another a
former Khmer Rouge - have been arrested for the murder of Hun Sen's brother-in-law
four months ago.
Srun Voung Vannak, 30, Prum Mean Rith, 37, and Sos Kasem, 26, are being detained
in prison, Mok Chito, chief of Municipal Penal Police, said.
Vannak, a former CPP police officer who worked under Chito, left the police to join
KNP and became the party's security chief.
Kov Samuth, a senior Interior Ministry official who was married to the sister of
Hun Sen's wife, was shot dead in front of a Phnom Penh restaurant Nov 19, 1996.
Tioulong Saumoura, wife of KNP leader Sam Rainsy, claimed that Vannak had been pressured
to confess in order to damage the party.
Chito said investigations were continuing to find the mastermind of the murder, while
Hun Sen declared that he was not interested in who pulled the trigger but in who
was "behind" the killing.
Chito - a long-time police chief and CPP stalwart - confirmed that Vannak was formerly
one of his subordinates. Vannak had asked to be relieved of his position some time
ago, to join the KNP, Chito said.
Rith is a former KR soldier from Division 801 in Kompong Thom, according to Chito,
and told police he was a member of KNP's "military council", a body which
does not exist according to Rainsy.
The third man arrested, Kasem was apparently not connected to KNP and is just a petty
"thief", Chito said.
All three had confessed, he said. Kasem was arrested Feb 3, while Vannak was arrested
Feb 14 and Rith three days later.
They appeared in court Mar 3 - between 2-4 weeks after their arrests - but it is
unclear whether a judge had previously sanctioned their detention.
Vannak appeared relaxed when seen at Phnom Penh Municipal court Mar 3 by a reporter
covering another case. The murder suspect was accompanied by police, but was not
handcuffed or under particularly tight security.
Chito, in a briefing to reporters Mar 5, said Kasem turned himself in to police Feb
3 after hearing guarantees from Hun Sen that the Prime Minister was not interested
in the gunmen who killed his relative, only in who hired them.
Fear of a possible killing to cover up the murder of Samuth also prompted Kasem's
confession, Chito said.
The police chief said that about 10 days before the murder, Kasem was approached
by Rith - an acquaintance of his - who asked him if he dared to kill a man for $50,000.
After agreeing to take the job, Kasem and Rith went to meet with Vannak at Wat Phnom.
Several days later, he received a $2,000 advance, a K-59 hand-gun and a motorcycle
from Vannak, Chito elaborated.
The trio spent several mornings having breakfast at Boeng Keng Kang restaurant where
Kasem was introduced Samuth's identity. On Nov 19, Kasem shot Samuth, a regular at
the restaurant, as he was getting into his car after breakfast.
Kasem fled on a moto driven by a friend of his, whom Chito would not identify.
The day after the murder, Kasem went to KNP headquarters to pick up the other $48,000
owed to him from Vannak. But Vannak was not there, Chito said, without explaining
whether the money was ever paid.
Hun Sen, in a speech broadcast on TV Mar 4, said: "I believed that sooner or
later they [the killers] would come out. What I want is not the killers, but I want
to know who is behind that."
Tioulong Saumoura, Sam Rainsy's wife, rejected the suggestion that Vannak would have
been involved in the killing, suggesting an orchestrated plot against KNP.
"I don't believe he committed such a crime. If he did, why didn't he run away?"
she said. "He must have been forced to confess in order to tarnish KNP's reputation.
This is the communist way, and this government still handles things by that way."
Rainsy said he had not heard from Vannak since Feb 14 - the day of his arrest - and
had been concerned that he might have come to harm.
Rainsy said he knew neither Rith nor Kasem.