Millions of mourners lined Cambodia’s highways to pay respects to popular government critic Kem Ley on Sunday, two weeks after his murder shocked the nation and underscored simmering political tensions.
Two million people turned out to see the flower-covered glass coffin of Kem Ley taken from Watt Bodhiyaram in the capital Phnom Penh to his home village in the southwestern province of Takeo.
Mourners from all walks of life and many parts of the country joined in the funeral procession, some traveling the entire 78 km (50 miles) from the capital to Takeo. Others stood on both sides of the road as the funeral procession passed, sharing supplying food, fruits and water to marching mourners.
Kem Ley, 46, who will be buried on Monday, was also honored in large gatherings across the nation on Sunday, two weeks after he was shot dead at a gas station convenience store where he was having coffee.
“The authorities must launch a full investigation with the participation of independent experts participate to reveal the truth,” said Eng Chay Eang, a senior official of the opposition Cambodia National Renewal Party (CNRP), who joined the funeral procession.
A Cambodian court charged a former soldier named Oueth Ang with premeditated murder on July 13 for the execution-style killing of Kem Ley. Authorities have said that Kem Ley was killed over an outstanding $3,000 debt to Oueth Ang, but many in Cambodia question that explanation.
Prime Minister Hun Sen did not make any statement on Kem Ley’ funeral. But a spokesman from his ruling Cambodian People’s Party expressed regret at the loss a prominent scholar and intellectual whose policy suggestions he said the CPP had adopted.
“We will make efforts to encourage the authorities to investigate the offender. We hope that Dr. Kem Ley’s soul will rest in peace,” said CPP spokesman Sok Eysan.
Cambodia’s Royal Palace also honored Kem Ley, calling him a “hero of expressing opinions with Golden Words, providing insight on society through analysis.”
Political tension between long-ruling strongman Hun Sen’s CPP and the CNRP has been intensifying this year as the parties prepare to contest local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.
About a dozen opposition party members, including lawmakers Hong Sok Hour and Um Sam An, are jailed in the country’s Prey Sar prison on various charges.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy is in exile, and acting leader Kem Sokha has been holed up in party headquarters since heavily-armed police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.
Asked about the prospect of restarting dialogue between the parties, the CNRP’s Eng Chhay Eang said his party is “the victim as they have arrested and put our activists in jail. They have banned our leader from returning to the country and our other leader has not been able to do any activity.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said negotiations would resume after court procedures are completed on the opposition cases. He called on the CNRP, which believes its members are being jailed to discredit the party before elections, to end its boycott of the national assembly.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.