THE March 4 slaying of Funcinpec Brigadier-General Kim Sang has succeeded in rocking
even those in the international community who still professed to believe in the existence
of political goodwill for the July elections.
Perhaps more importantly, the assassins have sent a clear signal to Funcinpec - to
both the military security apparatus Kim Sang allegedly worked for, and the party's
The "highly untimely" killing of Kim Sang outside his home was a slap in
the face to foreign donors. The hit occurred less than two hours before the trial
of ousted premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh and two days before the 'Friends of Cambodia'
meeting in Manila.
Many people - especially foreign donors who previously said there was a united CPP
commitment to a peaceful political environment - are now conceding that, at
the very least, powerful and extreme forces are operating independently from the
decisions, prior knowledge and censure of the party's top leadership.
For a lot of other observers, that's a fact those donors should have taken on board
Sang's execution was the third of a high-profile Funcinpec officer in a week. It
followed the shootings of Mom Sameth and Keo Sovan.
Rights investigators have been unable to confirm many details of Sameth's killing
because there are simply too many suspected executions to look into.
"We have a very long list of cases to investigate and very few hands,"
one investigator said.
Sovan was killed on March 2, and another Funcinpec official, Captain So Samoeun,
is believed to be dead after being held by Hun Sen's bodyguards as recently as last
One rights worker said that nearly a dozen other people are missing.
If the timing of Sang's murder is difficult for aid donors to accept - though none
has yet publicly suggested that the elections are in doubt because of such incidents
- the killing has had the desired effect on Sang's Funcinpec colleagues.
"Everybody is frightened about being killed," said one colleague who did
not want to be identified because he fears he is an assassination target.
"When we meet together nobody knows what to do because the government is killing
its own officers," he said. "I am nervous now because I have been told
many times that they want to kill me. Yesterday [March 6] I got four phone calls
"I believe we will be killed, one by one."
When asked who had made the threats, he said: "That's up to you to understand
by yourself. The people they want to kill are the Funcinpec generals."
Sang's killing, according to one informed source, was "a message" to the
Funcinpec intelligence unit for which the naval police chief was said to be working.
Sang's two murderers, dressed in police uniforms, took their time to make sure he
died. They were unconcerned, deliberate and professional in their actions, said one
"They were killers working with the right orders, from the right people. Why
should they care?"
The powerful forces now considered uncontrollable are known by name to virtually
every journalist, rights worker and diplomat in the country.
These forces, perhaps headed by ten or a dozen men who control thousands more, operate
in inter-linked webs of corruption, money, guns, historical friendships and power.
Their impunity seems absolute.
Even Khmer officials privately whisper that donors need only insist on one electoral
condition: let these men keep their wealth and keep their impunity, but don't give
the government any aid until they are relieved of their positions.
"They've got enough money for the rest of their life," said one government
source, "but you must realize that you can't deal with these people... you can't
deal with these people any more!"
On March 6 Agence-France Presse reported a "senior Western diplomat" as
saying Hun Sen had lost control of "radical elements" within his party
"who want to derail the elections".
"They are not concerned with the reaction of the international community. I
don't believe Hun Sen is one of them, but I am really worried that he may not be
able to stop or prevent the violence," the diplomat reportedly said.
Several sources told the Post that Hun Sen has indeed little ability to control the
"warlords" under him. There are anecdotes about the Second Prime Minister's
anger over incidents that have occurred without his knowledge - but the anger, said
one official, is a "short reaction".
But Sang's murder does not seem an arbitrary one. Nor unexpected, least of all to
himself. Sang may have been more a well-chosen target.
According to government sources, Sang was part of a Funcinpec intelligence or logistical
network operating under resistance leader General Nhek Bun Chhay and, by extension
in their opinion, the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng.
Members of this unit had been warned for some months to stop their work.
CPP sources asserted that they had thoroughly infiltrated the unit, and knew what
Funcinpec was doing. Independent sources confirm that Sang was "very close"
to Bun Chhay.
For some time - possibly till around November or December last year - the group was
lying low. Its apparent "re-activation" as an opposition intelligence unit
coincided with Sang's own family and colleagues' accounts of death threats to members
of the group.
"I know [Sang had] received phone calls from his friends in Thailand and he
asked them to stop calling him. He had been warned that he would be killed [for being
in touch with them]," said one source on condition of anonymity.
"[Suspected unit members were warned] either they stop what they are doing -
or what they were suspected of doing - or be killed," he said.
Kim Sang, who was involved in the July fighting at Pochentong airport, remained active
and influential after that, and retained the support of many men.
He was also close to the late Secretary of State for Interior Ho Sok, who was executed
on the grounds of the Interior Ministry following the July coup.
One diplomat from a country that has agreed to fund elections described the pattern
of killings since last July's fighting as a systematic effort to "remove the
fangs of Funcinpec" while leaving its political leaders physically unharmed.
Human rights workers say Sang's execution was unquestionably political. "There
is no doubt. This was a political killing," said one.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International said government security forces
have conducted an ongoing campaign of political killings since the July coup. "Hundreds
of people have been living in fear because of their political beliefs and activities,
and scores have been killed," the rights group said in a March 2 statement.
Another rights worker said mid-ranking Funcinpec or Sam Rainsy Party supporters at
the provincial, district and village levels are now most at risk.
"Whoever commands authority... is a primary target for killing. My understanding
is [that] the tactic is not to kill senior politicians - that would be too obvious
- the tactic is to kill intermediaries between politicians and the people. Without
them, [the politicians] can't campaign."
Pro-CPP papers that had been demanding the ouster of Sang's cousin, Interior Secretary
of State Kieng Vang, published stories that claimed Sang's death was motivated by
robbery, a jealous husband or even gambling debts.
A few local policemen, politicians loyal to Hun Sen and a handful of diplomats are
among the few who believe those motivations.
Sang's wife, Sam Tevy, said her husband had been aware of the assassination plans
for some time.
"He had been warned.
"He was being followed for the past three months."
She said he had forbidden her to go to the market to sell spices because he feared
if the assassins failed to kill him they would go after his family.
Opposition paper The Voice of Khmer Youth reported that Sang was killed after being
summoned to a meeting by national police chief Hok Lundy.
A colleague of Sang's said Tevy had confirmed to him that Lundy had phoned on the
morning of the murder, while another source confirmed the information and said the
general had not planned to work that day. "He had requested a leave of absence
for three days and wasn't going to go into work. He was called in."
Jurisdiction for the murder investigation has been taken away from district police
and is being handled by a special nine-person committee at the Interior Ministry,
headed by Lundy's deputy Yeng Marady.
He said so far the investigation has not made much progress. "We haven't seen
any light. We are still in the dark, but we try."
One government source said the month of March is "message time" to those
who would begin, or continue, to agitate against the Kingdom's political rule. Such
comments lend credence to rights workers' concerns about an orchestrated campaign
to silence the remnants of an opposition.
"If you look at the background of this person [Sang] and you look at the killings
of the last six to seven months, he fits exactly within the pattern, every element,"
said one rights investigator.
Sang was a staunch royalist from the anti-Vietnamese resistance of the '80s who continued
to work in the state security apparatus, retaining ties to Bun Chhay.
"The timing is bad?" one observer asked rhetorically of the murder. "Perhaps
the timing is very good. Perhaps, if you talk about timing, the CPP had no choice."
"This is the month that [internal opposition] must be stopped" because
the electoral mechanism is now beginning, he said.
Opposition politician Sam Rainsy called the recent surge in political violence "a
direct consequence" of the impending return of Ranariddh and "a pre-emptive
move to destroy Funcinpec" before the election.
Government sources said that the aim of the "radical elements" within CPP
was not to derail the elections, but to ensure that by silencing "internal"
opposition, Hun Sen is more free to battle against international pressure.
Japanese first secretary Kazuhiro Nakai described the current climate as "very
much in flux" and Sang's killing as "highly untimely", but he cautioned
that the Japanese would not focus too closely on one incident.
"We have to be careful to not jump to a conclusion too quickly," he explained.