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Girlfriend of NEC official murdered in Kampong Cham

Girlfriend of NEC official murdered in Kampong Cham

TUOL TREA, Kampong Cham - The female friend of a high-ranking National Election Committee

(NEC) member was murdered June 11 at the official's farmstead in this small village

in Tbaung Kmum district.

Meas Chanthou, 22, was killed at 9:30pm by a shirtless man who shot her once from

2 meters with an AK-47 rifle before sprinting off to an awaiting motorbike.

Chanthou bled to death from a shoulder wound in the three hours it took to get her

to the provincial hospital 10km away.

The killing was so professional, according to two witnesses, that none of those present

with Chanthou playing a game of cards realized anyone had been shot until they heard

her cry out that she was bleeding.

The NEC official, who requested anonymity, told the Post that the bullet may have

been meant for him.

"I don't rule out a politically motivated killing... If they had come the next

day, at exactly the same time, they would have got me. I would have been there with

her," he said. "It could be she died in my place and we were to die together...

or she could have been the [only] target."

Initial reports indicated the NEC official himself had been murdered. After that

was corrected, Kampong Cham Governor Hun Neng and his brother, Second Prime Minister

Hun Sen, were alerted to the case.

One rights worker suggested that if such a high-profile killing were political, the

government may well want to invent a cover story to avoid a potentially explosive

international reaction.

Asked if he thought such a scenario were likely, the NEC member replied: "Exactly.

That is what I am thinking, and I am scared now. I have to look at every possibility."

"I was lying here and was awakened by the shot," the victim's mother, Chhem

Bean, said at the scene of the murder. "Then I saw all the people running away."

A local village chief Bi Neam said the getaway driver was a boy on a motorbike who

had been seen lurking in the neighborhood during the previous month.

"Another man was seen fleeing with his shirt wrapped around a gun after the

shooting," he said. "They fled north with no lights on."

The village chief suggested that the killers came from elsewhere as Chanthou had

no conflicts with any of her neighbors or authorities.

But it is understood that Chanthou had conflicts with both local authorities and

with neighbors. Local police are also suggesting that the NEC official's wife could

be a suspect.

The NEC official said: "[Authorities in Tbaung Khmum district] terrify people

in the area just to get money. Tbaung Khmum has been known to Cambodians for many

years to be run by many brutal people who cheat, steal or kill people for as little

as a watch... My girlfriend was quite outspoken against that. She criticized local

police for extorting. They could be suspects."

He claimed authorities knew Chanthou's life was under threat before the murder but

they did nothing. "[The village police official] said someone was trying to

assassinate her for 15 days, so the policeman must have known about [the planned

killing]."

He and others also noted that it was strange authorities said they were unable to

locate the bullet shell even though it would likely have landed near to where the

killer fired.

"It isn't political," said chief of provincial justice police Seng Sok

Kim, who noted that the investigations was "45% finished".

The victim's sister-in-law, Soun Kim Ya, said she thought Chanthou was the intended

victim, not the NEC member. "It seems the killer planned to hit her because

they had plenty of time to aim."

She claimed Chanthou had recently fled the NEC member's Phnom Penh home in panic

after being told the jealous wife was set to arrive to get a look at her husband's

mistress.

The NEC member rejected this, saying the people fabricating such an account are creating

subterfuge. "They lie... It is relatives and friends [who are the suspects].

They try now [to say it is jealousy]...

"We cannot say there is no jealousy [but] my wife left Cambodia in January,

this happened in June," he said.

The NEC member said that in addition to Chanthou's several serious run-ins with police,

her neighboring family members had stolen from her on more than a dozen occasions,

giving them as strong a motive as police to "twist the truth".

Kim Ya said she did not understand the NEC member's murder accusations against her

family. "When the shooting took place my husband and one of the people in the

village who protected [the NEC member] were watching television with me," she

said.

She also asserted that Chanthou had no conflicts with police, neighbors or family

members.

While much remains disputed in the case, nearly everyone interviewed by the Post

suggested that the NEC member's cousin, Thy - who stole two photos of Chanthou -

may have played a role in the murder.

"I will provide information about him to the police," the NEC member said,

explaining that the stolen photos could have been used by the murderer to identify

his victim.

The NEC official said many people could have political motivations to eliminate him

or try to intimidate him by killing someone close to him.

Linking the murder to politics could seriously undermine the electoral process if

the case does turn out to be politically motivated, he said, as it would involve

the intimidation of a high-ranking official on the principal body organizing elections.

"If they want to destroy these elections, they can!" he said angrily.

"[But] I volunteer to bear this suffering for a while. I will call for justice

for all, but not now. I am swallowing it. It is hard."

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