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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Three arrested over Samuth murder

Three arrested over Samuth murder

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.



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