Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - For those closest to Kem Ley’s alleged shooter, the facts don’t add up



For those closest to Kem Ley’s alleged shooter, the facts don’t add up

Hoeum Hout holds a portrait of her husband, Oeut Ang, yesterday in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district.
Hoeum Hout holds a portrait of her husband, Oeut Ang, yesterday in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district. Thik Kaliyann

For those closest to Kem Ley’s alleged shooter, the facts don’t add up

As the mob closed in near Phnom Penh’s Aeon Mall on Sunday morning and military police raised their weapons, Oeut Ang withdrew his gun from his waist band and tossed it on the street.

According to three witnesses, the 44-year-old former soldier, ex-monk and environmental officer, looking frightened and exhausted and to the point of being only able to run in short bursts, made it another 50 metres before they caught him outside Svay Porpea pagoda on Sothearos Boulevard.

“The people started beating him. If the police did not stop them, he would have died,” said 36-year-old tuk-tuk driver Pheara.

“[The beating] lasted about five minutes; then they put him on a police motorbike and took him away,” recalled a nearby vendor, who declined to give his name.

Though mob justice is not uncommon in Cambodia, Ang stands accused of one of the most shocking crimes in recent memory.

About 1.5 kilometres away, in the Caltex service station from which Ang had allegedly fled on foot, the body of one of Cambodia’s most well-known political analysts, Kem Ley, lay in a pool of blood.

Oeut Ang stands at a press conference yesterday in Phnom Penh flanked by police after he was arrested for shooting political analyst Kem Ley. Photo supplied
Oeut Ang stands at a press conference yesterday in Phnom Penh flanked by police after he was arrested for shooting political analyst Kem Ley. Photo supplied

According to police, a man – yesterday identified by his family as Ang in interviews with the Post – approached the 45-year – old and from about two steps away, allegedly fired two bullets from a Glock handgun, one into his back and another into his head.

In a video confession released online only hours after the crime, Ang – calling himself “Choub Samlab”, which translates in English to “meet to kill” – admitted slaying the analyst, claiming Ley owed him money and had refused to pay.

But as details began to emerge about the suspected gunman, who was yesterday questioned by a prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, initial doubts about his purported motive only grew larger.

Speaking from their home in Nokor Pheas commune in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district, Ang’s new wife, Hoeum Hout, said she knew nothing of the debt or any motive, adding she didn’t believe reports from fellow villagers that her husband had been arrested for murder until she saw a picture of him in custody on Facebook.

“On July 1, [Ang] told me that he had something to do in Phnom Penh and would be back soon, maybe around July 10,” said Hout, a 45-year-old pork seller, adding that her husband was not acting strangely.

“Since I’ve known him until now, I’ve never heard him mention the name Kem Ley or anything related to him at all.”

Holding a picture of her husband in a uniform and cap with what resembles an insignia for the Forestry Administration with some minor differences, Hout said her husband worked for an environmental NGO, whose name she did not know.

Slideshow: Images from a day of mourning

An identification card in a lanyard around Ang’s neck in the photo reads EPDO, which appears to be the Environmental Protection and Development Organization, however, the group’s executive director Uth Samreth yesterday denied the suspect was on staff.

The group, founded in 1998 and funded by USAID and the European Union, according to its website, undertakes agriculture, environmental and rural development projects implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, according to an online job advertisement.

Yesterday, a district official for the Forestry Administration in Siem Reap said Ang had worked on a freelance basis with the Environment Ministry but was “fired a long time ago”.

About two months ago, however, life had started looking up for Ang, villagers said yesterday.

Following a short romance that began before Khmer New Year, the former Khmer Rouge and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier married for the second time, after meeting Hout upon moving to the village earlier this year.

He had not had a good earlier experience with marriage.

According to Nokor Pheas commune chief Poy Bun, after meeting his first wife in 2010, Ang left the military and moved to Thailand for work, returning after about a year to find his wife had a new husband.

After the divorce in 2012, he joined the monkhood and for more than two years resided at three pagodas in Siem Reap before being defrocked in late 2014 after what a senior monk in the commune, Sa Morn, said was a pattern of troubling incidents, including possessing bullets.

Morn said when confronted about the ammunition, the then-monk said they were left by “high-ranking soldiers” who had visited. In another scandal, Morn claimed Ang had had an affair with the daughter of the layman at Peung Ta Non pagoda, with the woman subsequently filing a rape complaint.

Oeut Ang, Kem Ley's alleged murderer, during his time as a monk in 2014. Photo supplied
Oeut Ang, Kem Ley's alleged murderer, during his time as a monk in 2014. Photo supplied

However, Bun, the commune chief, said the incident did not involve sexual assault but was a dispute over debt between Ang, the woman and the pagoda’s clergy, which was eventually resolved. “Everyone in this commune is shocked . . . I just know he is a good person in the village,” Bun said, saying Ang had worked as an environmental officer for about one year.

However, Morn, the monk, said he was “frightened” of Ang and recounted one meeting with the then-monk at Peung Ta Non pagoda, a place he said he only visited with a police escort.

“I gave him advice, but he said ‘if anyone makes a problem with me, I will shoot them dead’,” Morn said, before discussing the likelihood of Ley being $3,000 in debt to Ang – the amount claimed by police. “I don’t believe it. He is poor,” he said.

Also in disbelief yesterday, was Ang’s mother, 64-year-old Em Tab, who lives in Nokor Pheas commune’s Tonle Sor village, where her son was born.

“I have never seen any strange behaviour. He visited me once a month, but I never heard him talk anything about [Kem Ley],” she said. “I don’t believe he killed a person in Phnom Penh.”

Talking by phone later in the day, Hout continued to express doubt about the situation, saying she did not believe her husband had acted on his own volition.

“There must have been someone who ordered him to kill him,” she said.

Ang returns to court today, where he is expected to be charged.

VOXPOPS

The Post took to the streets yesterday to ask citizens their opinion on the murder of Kem Ley and the subsequent video-taped confession released to the public.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Rattana, 24, law student

I do not believe what the suspect said. It seems like a play that has been performed for us to watch. The authorities just wanted to calm us down for a short while. … I think that we, the people, should not release our anger immediately, but it does not mean that we ignore it. We have to find justice in a peaceful way.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Te Makara, 39, tuk-tuk driver

I was at lunch when I heard that Kem Ley was shot dead. I could not continue eating because I was so shocked, and it was hard to control my thoughts. He was a good man. His analysis usually hit the point; if he talked about deforestation, he said that they logged the trees. I think the killing is not because of debt. I believe that someone hired an assassin to kill him.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Chan Samphors, 24, monk

I used to listen to his analysis. He was like a mirror reflecting society. It is rare to produce such a good person. His death is like what is said in the poem of Kong Bunchhoeun about nipping the shoot, which means “the most capable person who knows the society will not be allowed to live peacefully”. His murder serves as a warning for other people to prohibit them from talking.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Phan Mun, 46, butcher

It is a big disappointment, he was an intellectual. In the future, there will be no knowledgeable leaders. I heard the information about his killing via Facebook, but when I arrived home, it was not on TV. If the shooter was arrested, why can’t they find the boss? The killer must have been hired. I do not believe that Kem Ley, who is a doctor, owed somebody money.

A previous version of this article stated that Oeut Ang served as a monk for four years. In fact, it was for between two and three years.

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