Court postpones charging two men in Chea Vichea�s murder

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 30, 2004�Phnom Penh police are now looking for a third man, identified as Mr. Chith, in connection with the Jan. 22 murder of prominent Cambodian labor leader Chea Vichea, RFA reports.

"I sent my men to look for Mr. Chith and hope he will be arrested soon if he is still in Cambodia," Phnom Penh police chief Heng Peou told RFA�s Khmer service. He said he doubted Mr. Chith had masterminded Chea Vichea's slaying.

Born Samnang, confessed killer in Chea Vichea's Jan. 22 murder. Born Samnang, who has confessed to the killing, said in an interview today that a Mr. Chith had first approached Sok Sam Oeun, whom he knew personally, with the offer of $5,000 for killing Chea Vichea. Sok Sam Oeun then asked Born Samnang if he was interested in the job.

On Jan. 22, two gunmen approached Chea Vichea as he stood at a busy newspaper kiosk in Phnom Penh and shot him in the chest and head before speeding away on a motorcycle. Chea Vichea died instantly.

Sok Sam Oeun, alleged accomplice in Chea Vichea's murder. On Jan. 28, police arrested Born Samnang, 23, in eastern Prey Veng Province, and Sok Sam Oeun, 28, in Phnom Penh. Born Samnang has since confessed to being the hitman in the murder, identifying as his accomplice Sok Sam Oeun, who has vehemently denied the accusation.

�Even though [Sok Sam Oeun has] denied the accusations, the police have the evidence to prove both men were involved,� Heng Peou told RFA. He indicated earlier that police had confiscated a loaded pistol, K-54 bullets, handcuffs, and four holsters from the two suspects.

On Friday, the two men were escorted into court by 10 police officers toting machine guns, when Sok Sam Oeun shouted to journalists �I did not commit murder. Police have not arrested the real criminal. I am innocent. This is a false arrest.�

Listen to the original broadcast in Khmer

Born Samnang later told RFA, �Let me tell you the truth. I am the murderer of Chea Vichea, who was killed on Jan. 22 at 9:30 a.m. Sok Sam Oeun was the driver of the motorcycle [on which we approached Chea Vichea].�

�After the murder, Sok Sam Oeun and I received $1,500, which we split between us, each getting $750,� Born Samnang said, adding that they were to receive $3,500 at a later date. �I don�t regret [killing Chea Vichea] because I needed the money. My parents do not treat me like a son anymore. I am no longer allowed to live with them.� The Phnom Penh Municipal Court postponed charging the two men because of discrepancies between Born Samnang's confession and Sok Sam Oeun's denial. �I cannot charge them today because I need more time to ask questions of the two men. It is a complicated matter,� deputy prosecutor Khuth Sopheang said.

Earlier this week, 36-year-old Va Sothy , the owner of the newspaper kiosk where Chea Vichea was shot, told RFA she fears for her life and has asked human rights groups and United Nations (UN) staff for protection. She said three men who identified themselves as U.N. staff came to her kiosk to look for her and wanted her to go with them for her protection. She has so far denied seeing the faces of the two men who killed Chea Vichea.

On Friday, Phnom Penh police arrested Men Vattana for sending a death threat to Chea Vichea on July 22. Men Vattana had admitted on a Cambodian People�s Party-supported television station he sent the threatening e-mail and was paid $100 by Sam Rainsy Party secretary Eng Chhay Eang. Men Vattana claimed to be a member of the Sam Rainsy Party and presented his membership card.

Eng Chhay Eang vehemently denied Men Vattana�s accusation. �This is a false accusation. It is only intended to ruin the Sam Rainsy Party and to have me and Sam Rainsy arrested. This accusation has only been said for political purposes,� Eng Chhay Eang told RFA.

Chea Vichea founded the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia in 1996 with opposition party leader Sam Rainsy�whom Chea Vichea supported politically. A Soviet-trained agricultural engineer, Chea Vichea led the union through multiple labor protests that often clashed with police.

Chea Vichea�s death drew worldwide condemnation. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice.#####


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