Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition campaign forced underground

Opposition campaign forced underground

Opposition campaign forced underground

KRANG NEANG, Prey Veng - The Khmer Nation Party is facing the prospect of trying

to campaign in secret following the killing of one its most successful local campaigners.

Meanwhile Son Soubert, who leads a faction of the split BLDP, said his party would

probably rely on campaigning by radio to avoid expected campaign violence and intimidation

against the opposition.

"[UNTAC] was not a safe atmosphere but it could be worse now. It is very difficult

to campaign like you would in a free country. The best way is to have a radio station

to transmit messages," Soubert explained.

Soubert said the Son Sannist BLDP was currently preparing an application to the Ministry

of Information to set up a radio station.

However the KNP has said for one of its workers it is already too late to protect

him from election violence.

School teacher On Phuong, 58, was rocking his 4-year-old daughter to sleep in his

house Jan 30 when armed men opened fire without warning. Both he and his daughter

died from their injuries.

The authorities have said it was a robbery but KNP officials insisted the killing

was political.

Siem Reap MP Son Chhay, a recent addition to the KNP, said the effect of the killing

will be two-fold: at a local level the murder means it will be hard for the opposition

party to find a replacement; while nationally it has implications for all oppositon

campaigners in the countryside.

He said it might mean that party workers like On Phuong will not be able to publicly

say they are with the KNP.

While the authorities and KNP have still been debating the motives of the killing,

the facts of what happened that night seem reasonably clear. His wife Chan Sary,

42, told the Post three men approached the house and one of them shot her husband

as he was rocking their daughter to sleep in a krama hammock. The bullet passed through

Phuong and hit the daughter.

Sary said the attackers then moved in for the kill. "After they opened fire

they got into the house and tied up my husband."

"After they tied him up they shot my husband twice more."

The men then took items from the house - including clothing, the victim's KNP membership

card, a ticket for the party congress last December and a photograph of Sam Rainsy.

Meanwhile a friend, Put Phun, 47, tried to get help for the dying man. "After

the gunfire I ran to the village chief and said my friend had been shot, the village

chief gave a man a gun and we went back," he said.

"I rushed to my friend... He asked me that I do something for him. Then he said

he was in so much pain. But he said 'I ask you to send my message to His Excellency

Sam Rainsy and the members of the KNP - good bye.'" He died about two hours

later.

The victim's widow said she did not know her husband was involved in politics.

"I don't know anything about his business. He has never told me which party

he supported."

Likewise Phun said he was unaware of Phuong's political work until he told him on

the night of the killing.

"He used to go to meetings in Phnom Penh but I never knew nor did anyone in

the village, including even his family."

Despite those close to him maintaining that Phuong kept his activities secret from

them, KNP sources say he was a successful and vigorous supporter of the party in

a CPP-dominated area.

Most of his party work was centered around the local pagoda where he spent a lot

of time at his devotions.

He was known to have expressed the view that the current government was not committed

to democracy, peace and justice and was instead leading the country into civil war.

He recommended the KNP as being the party that would implement these values.

The source also said Phuong was popular and well-respected in the community.

A commune official, Him Chhan, told the Post that after a number of investigations

the authorities had decided the killing was part of a robbery.

"People have gone to investigate this 10 times already. The provincial, district

and commune authorities have investigated it.

"We launched a big investigation because we knew people would say this is a

party killing so we have to find out the truth. This area has had big robbery problems

20 times so far this year."

The robbery motive has been dismissed by villagers and KNP officials. They said that

Phuong's family was very poor and had hardly enough to eat. They also said that there

had been only one robbery recently and there had been no violence.

Sary is not prepared to speculate on why her husband was killed. She said she asked

the police not to investigate, saying it could not bring her husband or daughter

back.

She said the killing has her terrified. "After this happened whenever I see

someone with a gun I just want to pass out. If I hear someone coming on a moto or

in a car I get very frightened."

Meanwhile she has moved to another part of the village and will try and support her

family on half a hectare of rice paddy.

The KNP has announced that the party still plans to open an office in Battambang

and has written and asked the co-Ministers of the Interior to investigate these murders

and another from October last year in which party member Souer Mao was killed - another

murder the KNP claims was political.

The letter also wants the ministers to guarantee the safety of politicians of all

parties.

Funcinpec has also claimed its members have been the victims of political assassinations

recently. The royalist party has claimed that two of their members who were killed

by border police officers were murdered because of their party affiliation. The authorities

however suggest that revenge or personal reasons were the motivation for the killings.

All of the murders are being investigated by human rights officials. Five and a half

months out from the election the tally of suspected political killings stands at

five.

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