An off-duty police officer fatally shot two people and wounded another in Phnom Penh yesterday, during an argument about the cost of street lamps, authorities and eyewitnesses said.
Chuk Lay, 62, chief of village 4 in Tuol Svay Prey I commune, along with his son Lay Bun Hoeun, 18, and nephew Bun Rithy, 30, were collecting money from villagers to install street lights along the local roads to cut down on crime.
Each household had to contribute $50 to cover the cost of a street light in front of their house, said Pov Pidor, the commune police chief.
When Lay got to the house of the suspects, Keo Sovanrith, a policeman with the Ministry of Interior, and his brother Keo Sovannara, the latter said he wouldn’t pay more than $25, leading to an argument. As it escalated, Sovanrith grabbed his AK rifle and opened fire on the trio.
Lay died instantly. His son and nephew were rushed to Calmette Hospital, where Bun Hoeun succumbed to his wounds. Rithy is still alive but in serious condition.
The suspect’s relatives told authorities that Lay brought a sword to attack Sovanrith’s family members just before the fatal shooting and that Sovanrith was only acting in self-defence. One of Lay’s neighbours, who declined to give his name, corroborated this account.
“I am not sure what was happening, as the village chief insulted his neighbour and went back to his house carrying two samurai swords and started attacking,” said the alleged witness.
Another neighbour, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in his 17 years of living in the village, he had never seen Lay’s and Sovanrith’s family engage in a dispute.
“The two parties were good neighbours and never had a dispute before. I think the attack occurred because of a verbal spat,” said the neighbour of the victims.
Some villagers said that they were asked to pay 20,000 riel ($5) in monthly installments, rather than $50 up front. As of yesterday evening, the reasons behind the discrepancy were unclear.
Sovanrith and Sovannara were arrested following the shooting. Police and prosecutors declined to provide any additional details about the attack.
“Now, both suspects were arrested and sent to Phnom Penh municipal police station for further interrogation,” said Pidor. “The bodies were handed to the families and relatives for traditional funerals.”