The Ministry of Interior has sought a warrant for the suspect who shot three people at a protest outside a shoe factory last week amid more allegations from government and police officials that the perpetrator was Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that a complaint had been filed seeking an arrest warrant for the suspect.
“The shooter was not police, he was a civil person,” he said, adding that the ministry would go ahead and arrest the suspect if the court decided to issue a warrant, before declining to provide further details.
The shootings took place outside the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in Svay Rieng’s Bavet town on Monday.
A police officer who was an eyewitness at the scene of the shooting and asked not be named, said Chhouk Bandith became enraged after a worker threw a stone at his head while he tried to find a solution to the protest.
“So he took the gun from his waist to shoot three times into the sky to protect himself [and] get out of the crowd, but I don’t why the bullets hit the workers,” he said.
A senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said the perpetrator was Chhouk Bandith, but declined to comment further.
Both of Chhouk Bandith’s phones have remained switched off since he told the Post on Tuesday that he was aware of rumours that he had shot the three workers, which he categorically denied.
But Keo Kong, Bavet municipal police chief, said his part of the investigation had now concluded and in his opinion, Chhouk Bandith was not the perpetrator.
“National police have got everything, but from my point of view, I don’t think that Mr Chhouk Bandith did it,” he said.
Eyewitness reports of the incident suggest a man dressed in a khaki police-style uniform flanked by a bodyguard and another man dressed in police clothing stepped out of a Lexus, fired into the crowd and ran to a nearby black Toyota Camry, which he fled in.
Rights groups and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party have attacked authorities for taking so long to arrest a suspect in a shooting that took place in front of police officers in a crowd of some 6,000 protesters.
They have also asked that security camera footage recorded during the incident, which has reportedly been viewed by MOI officials, be released to reassure the public the real perpetrator was being pursued.
Mathieu Pellerin, a monitoring consultant for the rights group Licadho, said testimony from eyewitnesses and the victims’ injuries suggested the shootings were intentional, but he stressed the most important thing was that a suspect be arrested and an impartial trial conducted.
“What matters is the evidence is brought forward to the court, and if the evidence is showing that there was attempted murder, then that person, however important they may be, should be charged with attempted murder,” he said.
The shooting put three women in hospital: 18-year-old Keo Neth, 23-year-old Nuth Sakhorn and 21-year-old Buot Chinda – who was left in critical condition after a bullet pierced her chest.
Buot Chinda’s older brother, Sam Sinat, said yesterday his sister continued to receive medical treatment, and labelled authorities “hopeless” for failing to arrest a perpetrator.
“I want the authorities to arrest the perpetrator and send them to jail to provide justice for the victim,” he said.
The Kaoway Sports factory supplies sportswear giant PUMA, which has previously said it was investigating the case.