PHNOM PENH�Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen�s nephew Nim Sophea has been sentenced to three years in prison for killing three people during an Oct. 27 shooting spree, RFA�s Khmer service reports.

Presiding Judge Tan Senarong told reporters Thursday he opted to convict Nim Sophea on the lesser charge of unintentional, rather than intentional, killing. Nim Sophea will serve half of his three-year sentence, with the rest suspended, plus five years of probation. The judge did not provide an explanation for the suspended sentence. Nim Sophea�s friend, Sam Doeun, who still remains at large, was sentenced in absentia to 10 years as the intentional killer.

Nim Sophea, 22, was charged in late November with three counts of murder and multiple traffic violations for allegedly racing through Phnom Penh streets firing an AK-47 rifle on Oct. 27. Three people were killed from bullet wounds and four were injured in traffic accidents.

The trial, which resumed after a two-month adjournment, was heavily guarded. Reporters and the public were barred from entry. Since Cambodian courts typically allow journalists to be present at trials, the rare move drew speculation about possible violations of the law.

�From what we saw, the hearing was very suspicious and appears to have been pre-arranged,� a Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee member told RFA on condition of anonymity. �No specific witness testimonies were presented, and the entire hearing had only eight persons present.� At cross-examination, no members from the victims� side were allowed into the courtroom and all victims had withdrawn their complaints, he said.

Sok Sam-oeun, director of the free legal assistance program Cambodian Defender Project, however, praised the trial.

�At least I saw one good point. It encourages other judges not to be afraid, and bigshots will begin to think twice about being responsible for their actions before the law. Although the punishment is relatively light, this was a good thing. Now the nephews and sons of people in power should realize this is not something good for them [to commit crimes] and that even a month [of punishment] is desirable.�

Nim Sophea is a son of Hun Sen's sister, Hun Sinath, a Foreign Ministry official. She is married to Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nim Chan Dara, who was the ambassador to Burma until recently.

Nim Sophea's case is not the first in which relatives of the prime minister have tangled with the law. Two of Hun Sen's nephews�Hun To and Hun Chea, both sons of the prime minister's elder brothers�were accused of involvement in a December 2001 shootout at a shopping center in the capital.

The nephews were jailed briefly, but a court later released them, saying investigators had insufficient evidence to support charges that they possessed guns and were involved in the shooting. #####


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