PHNOM PENH — ; Police in Cambodia's northwestern Banteay Meancchey Province have arrested five suspects in connection with the murder of two opposition Sam Rainsy Party activists, RFA reports.
"We arrested them on Saturday at their homes and at various hiding places, which we found with the help of witnesses," Banteay Meancchey provincial police chief Chhoeun Sokhum told RFA's Khmer service. "One of the five was a conspirator who helped carry 20,000 Thai baht [U.S.$512] from the two robbery victims because they were land dealers."
The suspects in custody are So Savong, 27, a former bodyguard for the governor; Soeun Vuth Ta, 42; Chhoum Yudy, 30; Doeun Sokheam; and another man who has yet to be identified.
On Jan. 15, 46-year-old Keo Chan and 39-year-old Chhin La were gunned down by four unidentified gunmen in what local officials claim was an armed robbery. The assailants entered Keo Chan's home at approximately 9 p.m., while he and Chhin La were listening to a Voice of America radio program. Initial reports indicated that the incident had occurred in Chhin La's home.
Sam Rainsy Party official Eng Chhay Eang told RFA the assailants entered Keo Chan's home and opened fire, killing the two men instantly. Police later said the gunmen threw hand grenades and fired several shots as they fled. Three people nearby were injured.
While authorities contend the murders were a result of armed robbery – ; police said 240,000 riel (U.S. $60) was stolen in the incident – ; Sam Rainsy Party members and supporters slammed police with accusations that the killings were politically motivated.
"If police said that this is not a political murder, I just want to ask the police a few questions," Sam Rainsy said. "First, why does this type of robbery always happen to opposition activists? Second, why are the poor activists robbed and not the rich CPP [Cambodian People's Party] activists? Third, why do they rob and kill our famous activists? And finally, why do robbers carry guns when these simple people have no guns? Therefore, this must be a well-organized plan of the ruling CPP."
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Kem Sokha, who told RFA last week he believed the murders to be political, applauded the arrests. "This is a good sign whether the killings were political or not," he said. "Because usually when opposition activists are killed, police do not make any arrests. However, I am still doubtful about the reasons for the murders and I want to be sure the real killers have been arrested by police."
Several other opposition supporters have also been victimized recently.
On Jan. 10, Sam Rainsy Party supporter Lay Kong was gunned down at his home in central Kampong Cham Province, succumbing to his wounds after being shot seven times with a rifle. Authorities called Lay Kong's murder a "conflict" unrelated to politics. On Jan. 16, Sam Rainsy Party supporter Chheoum Chhoeung escaped death when his home was fired upon. He escaped and sought refuge at the party's office in Battambang.
In October 2003, several supporters of another Cambodian political party, royalist FUNCINPEC Party, were gunned down – ; including a famous pop star and a deputy editor for a local FUNCINPEC-aligned radio station.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party gained 73 seats in the National Assembly during elections in August. But without a two-thirds majority, Cambodian law prevents him from forming his own government.
The CPP's two main rivals are the royalist FUNCINPEC Party and the Sam Rainsy Party, which won 26 and 24 seats, respectively. Both parties have formed an alliance against Hun Sen's leadership in the future government, called the Alliance of Democrats.
Plans for the formation of a new Cambodian government are still tentative, with member parties of the Alliance of Democrats refusing to form a coalition government with the CPP.