Soy Tha, widow of Funcinpec candidate Thon Phally, points out where her husband's killers stood.
Sitting on her bamboo floor, Soy Tha describes how her husband was shot dead by two
men November 14 last year. Her husband's blood still stains the wood, his face staring
out from a photo frame next to an urn that holds his ashes. Her face is drawn.
"I want to tell everyone exactly who killed my husband, and if someone wants
to come and take my life, please take it. If I try to hide what happened then the
killers will carry on doing this forever," she says. She turns to look at her
daughters. "But I feel sorry for my children - who will then look after them?"
Tha's husband, Thon Phally, was a Funcinpec candidate for Srolop commune in Kampong
Cham, the province that registered the highest number of political killings in the
run-up to Cambodia's February 2002 commune elections.
Phally's killers were bold: after nightfall they walked up to the house, shone a
flashlight in Phally's face, and shot him. Tha says she recognized them clearly.
The killer, she says, was Ean Saveth, alias Veth, who is the deputy police chief
in nearby Longieng commune. Veth's father was Srolop's commune chief before the election,
and has retained his position. The man carrying the flashlight, she says, was Seth,
a police colleague of Veth's.
"I shouted at them after they shot him," she says. "'You have killed
him - you are beasts. Why don't you kill us all?' They did not reply, and simply
walked away behind my house."
After almost two months of inaction, the men were suspended from their official duties
January 12 by Hok Lundy, head of the national police. They were asked to stay at
the provincial police headquarters in Kampong Cham town. On March 5 they were arrested.
"If they are released by the court, then they will say we unjustifiably accused
them, but I saw their faces very clearly," says Tha, pointing to the ladder
where the killers stood.
"For me everything is finished, because my husband, who was a Funcinpec activist,
has already been killed," she says. "But I should help the future activists
regain their confidence."
Support for Funcinpec in Srolop commune was badly dented by the killing, says Sek
Phat, a Funcinpec commune candidate in Angkor Chea village. He says the party lost
more than half its support as a direct result of Phally's killing, whose death was
used as an example for others. In Kampong Cham, intimidation clearly worked.
"I have to try to rebuild support even if they threaten to kill me as they did
to Phally. The people told me not to be afraid of the tiger," says Phat, comparing
the communes' powerful residents with one of nature's most feared creatures. "But
I am still afraid of tigers because they eat humans. Staying alive in the tiger's
cage depends on whether or not the tiger is hungry."
A human rights worker says the murder case was "near-hopeless".
"No matter what happens with Seth and Veth now, the Funcinpec [supporters] in
Srolop are in trouble. If Seth and Veth are released by the court, there is a big
risk that they will go back to Srolop and revenge themselves on those who brought
the case against them," the rights worker says. "And if they are convicted
and sent to prison there is an equally big risk that their friends and relatives
in Srolop will do the revenging for them."
The authorities, and in particular the police, have been strangely reluctant to take
Soy Tha's eye-witness testimony into consideration. Despite that, the first deputy
governor of the province, Funcinpec's Thav Kimlong, remains confident justice will
"We have all the proof we need, and the human rights people have worked very
hard helping with this case," he says "The killers cannot escape the law."
His confidence is encouraging, but past human rights abuses show that killers do
walk free from Cambodia's weak courts.
"Our biggest point of interest right now - other than the safety of the victims
in Srolop - is how the court handles the upcoming trial of Seth and Veth," the
rights worker says.
November 14, 2001, saw two politically-related killings in Kampong Cham. The other
was of Sam Rainsy Party activist Phoung Sophath by four men.
Youn Samoeurn, former chief of the Srolop commune militia, was arrested for the killing
and is in jail awaiting trial. Two others involved fled after arrest warrants were
issued November 23.
One was Youn Thorny, a Srolop commune militia member; the other was Chorn Rotha,
a military sergeant in Tbong Khmum district, where Srolop commune is located.
The action taken against the men took place while international attention was on
Cambodia. Now that has died down, there are concerns that activists from Funcinpec
and the SRP could be in for a difficult time once more. Pen Kha, a Funcinpec activist,
certainly thinks so.
"I think that they will be more cruel and kill whoever they want to," he
says. "If that happens, those villagers who are Funcinpec members will flee
Sin Soeun, another Funcinpec commune council member, appealed to those in power to
ensure there were no further killings.
"We call on the courts and the human rights workers to make sure the trial is
conducted properly. If not our people will get scared," says Soeun. "We
have no power, but we love democracy, so please don't kill us."
Funcinpec's Phat predicts that if the problems of election-related violence are not
solved, there will be further intimidation and killings in the run-up to next year's
Election violence in Cambodia traditionally has a long lead period: candidates from
Funcinpec and the SRP were being killed more than a year before the local elections
were held. With a national election planned for mid-2003, some observers are concerned
that a new wave of violence and intimidation could begin soon.
The SRP reckons it has already started: one of its activists, former commune council
candidate Ham Bun Ly, 51, was shot in his legs in Kampong Cham March 3.
His assailant fired at him as he walked home with his 13-year-old daughter after
a religious ceremony in Srolop commune. An SRP press release spoke of the "unceasing
political violence" against party members.
One observer questioned the rationale behind shooting members of a party that fared
so poorly in Kampong Cham's commune elections.
"Maybe there is a message to the electorate here: don't relax yet, there is
another [election] to come," the observer says. "It is rather concerning
to think that political violence in connection with the 2003 national election may
have already begun."