POLITICAL observers have expressed alarm at the renewed threat of election-related
violence following the killings of several political figures over the past fortnight.
The murders prompted a coalition of NGOs to warn that the current climate of intimidation
was worse than that during the lead-up to the 1998 election.
The most prominent killing was that of Om Radsady, a senior advisor to Funcinpec
leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Radsady was shot outside a city restaurant around
midday on February 18 and died later that day.
The killing of the widely-admired former MP sent shockwaves across the political
spectrum, not least because of widespread suspicions that elements within the ruling
Cambodian People's Party (CPP) were behind the high-profile murder.
The day before Radsady's assassination, CPP activist Larch Than, 62, was beaten to
death in Siem Reap. On January 19, Funcinpec activist Kim Chunly, 31, was shot dead
at his house in Kampot province.
Two days later a commune council candidate in Kampot from the opposition SRP, Chan
Nim, 51, was seriously wounded after his brother-in-law, a CPP activist, threw a
grenade at him.
All three cases are being investigated.
After earlier dismissing Radsady's murder as the act of a petty thief, the Ministry
of Interior (MoI) now admits there could be a political motive to the killing. Observers
had widely dismissed the official explanation that he was killed for his mobile phone.
As the threat of violence increased ahead of the July general election, King Norodom
Sihanouk said he would delay his trip to China where he was headed for a routine
"As the political situation in our motherland has grown more serious, many of
my compatriots have requested that I stay here longer," the King wrote in a
message on February 20. "[They asked me] not to travel to Beijing for medical
treatment, and I agreed to delay my trip."
Radsady's killing has left Funcinpec in shock. With just five months to go before
the general election on July 27, Ranariddh said he had no doubt Radsady's murder
was political. He reiterated that his royalist party was at risk of being torn apart
by acts of politically-related violence.
"I cannot comment [about the killing in relation to] the upcoming national elections
in July 2003, but we have seen political violence against Funcinpec before the 1993
and the 1998 elections," Ranariddh said. "[The killing of Radsady] will
frustrate the upcoming political environment."
And he scorned the initial MoI statement that the killing was a result of petty theft.
"We cannot accept that this crime was committed simply to steal one mobile phone,"
Ranariddh said. "If that is the case [that people are murdered for their phones]
then this government cannot guarantee the safety of its people and foreign visitors.
This killing has disgraced the honor of Cambodia."
Senior royalist officials said they were worried the incident would further increase
tensions between the coalition partners ahead of the vote. However they said they
were afraid to comment publicly while the case was under investigation.
Om Radsady was shot on February 18 while leaving the Psar Kabko Restaurant on Street
9 in Daun Penh district. He died later that day in Calmette Hospital, and was cremated
on February 21. Several witnesses said two men wearing motorbike helmets escaped
on a blue Honda AX-1 motorbike.
The MoI's initial statement that Radsady was murdered for his mobile phone was widely
dismissed. A second statement released by the ministry on February 20 said the MoI
was still working to determine the motive.
The royalist co-Minister of Interior, You Hokry, said on February 21 that an emergency
committee had been established to investigate the killing. The eight-member committee
will be led by Funcinpec police General Sau Phan. Two other Funcinpec party members
will be joined by five from the CPP to investigate the case.
The ministry announced a reward of 50 million riel ($12,500) for any person providing
information that will lead to the arrest of the killer. Hokry said the investigation
had identified the killer.
"We don't know the reason [for the killing], but we are targeting the arrest
of one suspect," Hokry said. "I cannot tell you more details, because that
will affect the investigation."
As of February 27, no arrests had been made, commission member Moung Khim told the
The violence caught the attention of a senior United States official who was on a
planned visit here. Matthew Daley, the deputy assistant secretary of State for East
Asian and Pacific Affairs, expressed his "most serious concern" over the
recent political violence and intimidation.
"Outrages, such as the murder this week of a well-known Funcinpec official,
Om Radsady, as well as measures that have the effect of chilling and intimidating
public debate and legitimate political activity, are harmful to the Cambodian nation
and prejudicial to its prospects for development and stability," he said on
Daley added that he had told Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong of Washington's
concern at "these recent troubling developments", and hoped Prime Minister
Hun Sen and the government would ensure respect for the right of citizens to express
their opinions peacefully.
On the same day, Hun Sen dismissed the Radsady killing as a robbery, and said it
should have no effect on the political environment.
"Robberies do not affect the general environment," he told reporters at
the Faculty of Pedagogy. "If that was the case, people should be more afraid
of those countries where planes are hijacked. In Cambodia robberies take place with
only knives and guns - in other countries they use planes."
That was not the opinion of a coalition of five election monitoring and human rights
NGOs, which released a statement on February 22 expressing concern that the recent
violence would seriously affect the election process.
The anti-Thai riots of January 29, the arrests of students and journalists, the murder
of political party activists and Funcinpec official Om Radsady, and the verbal warnings
between politicians were all cited as negative factors.
The statement from Comfrel, NICFEC, CHRAC, Star Kampuchea, and the Council of Cambodian
Youth warned that the current environment of intimidation was of greater concern
than that in the run-up to the previous general election in 1998.