Speculation is bubbling in Bavet town over the identity of the man who shot three people protesting outside a shoe factory on Monday, with eyewitnesses, police and villagers suggesting blame lies with town officials.
The shooting, which took place outside the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in Svay Rieng province, left one woman in critical condition and has caught the eye of the international media largely because the company supplies sportswear giant PUMA.
One name surfacing amid the swirl of rumours is that of town governor Chhouk Bandith, who admitted as much during an interview with the Post yesterday but categorically denied he had any involvement in the incident.
“It is not true, because during that time, I went to the crowd to find a resolution for the workers and then I heard the sound of the guns. I feared for my safety because the situation was disorder,” he said.
Chhouk Bandit said no officials had come to question him yet and promised that if they did, he was ready to answer their questions.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the perpetrator had been identified, but no arrest has since been announced.
Fear that a low-ranking official will be made a scapegoat for the incident led one police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to tell the Post that he and his colleagues knew the shooter’s identity with 99 per cent certainty.
“We don’t want to stay in the jail instead of him, so the man who opened fire on the workers was not police, it was the high-level official who works in Bavet town,” he said.
These fears were echoed by opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, who visited the scene after the shooting and said yesterday one thing was certain – it was the not the work of a lowly security guard.
“He came out of a car, he had bodyguards, he pulled his gun out of his holster – so it is not someone who is just a security guard,” she said, adding that the ministry should make a photo of the suspect public.
Witnesses reported that a man dressed in a khaki police uniform stepped out of a Toyota Camry on Monday morning flanked by a police officer and a bodyguard and fired into the crowd of about 6,000 people before jumping back in the car, which sped off.
Mathieu Pellerin, a monitoring consultant with rights group Licadho, said he was worried the high-profile nature of the case would lead authorities to convict scapegoats as they did after the notorious slaying of garment-sector unionist Chea Vichea.
“My big worry in this story is that we are in the exact conditions as what happened with the killing of Chea Vichea in 2004, which is an outrageous act of violence linked to one of the only viable sectors Cambodia has,” he said.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Quick and Press Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said the government opposed violence and would find justice.
In a press statement yesterday, PUMA said it would pay the medical expenses of 21-year-old Buot Chinda, who was shot through the chest and is receiving medical care at Phnom Penh’s Calmette hospital.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre, said Buot Chinda was in a stable condition in hospital but still had some internal bleeding and could be released in two weeks provided her health did not deteriorate.
PUMA deputy head of corporate communications Kerstin Neuber confirmed Kaoway would cover the medical expenses of the other two victims, 18-year-old Keo Neth and 23-year-old Nuth Sakhorn.
She said Kaoway had confirmed their security guards did not carry guns and had nothing to do with the shooting.