Police cite �progress� in probe of labor leader�s slaying

PHNOM PENH�A Cambodian court has charged four men with premeditated murder and three others with conspiring to commit murder in connection with the slayings this month of two opposition activists, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

�We charged seven of them based on Article 3 of a newly adopted penal code that states if the men are found guilty, they will be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison,� Nhom Thol, a prosecutor in the northwestern province of Batteay Manccheay, told RFA�s Khmer service. �Four have been directly charged with murder and three others were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.�

On Jan. 15, 46-year-old Keo Chan and 39-year-old Chhin La�both opposition Sam Rainsy Party activists�were gunned down by four unidentified men in Keo Chan�s home, while the two listened to a Voice of America broadcast. Local officials claimed the incident was an armed robbery.

Police arrested five suspects Jan. 17: So Savong, 27, a former bodyguard, Soeun Vuth Ta, 42, Chhoum Yudy, 30, Doeun Sokheam, and Tin Sophea. On Jan. 20, police took two more suspects into custody: Nhanh (eds: one name), who is accused of murder with a K-54 gun, and Ney Sarath, accused of murder with a pistol. No further details were available about the suspects.

Police say all seven men took 270,000 Thai bhat (U.S. $6,900) in the incident.

�I welcome the charges and the arrests in the murders, but I still believe this was a case of political intimidation,� Sam Rainsy Party spokesperson Eng Bun Ang told RFA.

Last week a high-profile Cambodian labor leader and Sam Rainsy Party supporter was gunned down in broad daylight at a newspaper kiosk. RFA reported that Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, had received death threats since the July elections in Cambodia and had briefly emerged from hiding when two unidentified gunmen killed him.

Police said Wednesday they had made significant progress in their investigation of Chea Vichea�s murder but declined to give details.

A witness to Chea Vichea�s murder, who has requested anonymity, meanwhile appealed to the United Nations for protection. The witness said unidentified men had visited her home asking for the person who witnessed the killing.

Another opposition supporter was also shot dead Jan. 25. Meach Youen, 40 and a local election candidate for the royalist FUNCINPEC Party in 2002, was shot in the mouth with an AK-47 automatic assault rifle in the early hours, as he lay asleep in his house.

FUNCINPEC condemned his killing as well as the recent string of murders targeting opposition activists, who recently united against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to form the Alliance of Democrats.

Some 23 activists belonging to the major opposition parties have been murdered since January 2003. Hun Sen�s government is treating all of the killings as armed robberies and personal disputes without political motives.#####


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