The head of a Cambodian National Assembly commission wants two members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet to answer questions about the investigation into the murder in July of popular government critic Kem Ley, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.
As the investigation into the slaying drags on with what looks like little progress, the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Complaints, and Investigation wants to get some answers from Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
“It’s very regrettable that over this past three months the investigation seems to have come up with nothing new,” said commission chairman Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang.
“I am more concerned that the person named ‘Chuop Samlap’ could be released,” he told RFA, using suspect Oeuth Ang’s nom de plume. Roughly translated Choup Samlap means ‘meet to kill.”
Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Though authorities charged Oueth Ang with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the former soldier over a debt.
Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.
Since the arrest, the investigation has apparently stalled, or is not being pursued as the Cambodian authorities have someone in custody.
“There are many issues as we know,” Eng Chhai Eang said. “As head of the commission, I will do whatever I can to push for them to seek the real killer.”
Eng Chhai Eang did not give a date for the summons, but said he hoped it would come soon after opposition party’ lawmakers decide to return to the parliament.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin told RFA that the ministry will look into the summon letter if it is officially submitted.
Opposition party lawmakers have been boycotting the National Assembly as the two parties have now been locked for months in a political statement, with Cambodian authorities stripping several opposition lawmakers of their legislative immunity.
Lawmakers have also been put on trial for a variety of offenses, many of which appear to be aimed at undercutting the CNRP before local elections in 2017 and national elections the following year.
A Sam Rainsy Return?
One of those lawmakers, CNRP president Sam Rainsy, told activists on Wednesday that he would return to Cambodia as soon as the 30 jailed human rights workers and opposition party officials are released.
Sam Rainsy has been living abroad off and on for years as Hun Sen’s government has charged him with a number of offenses that observers inside and outside Cambodia see as politically motivated.
“I will return to Cambodia immediately,” he told supporters via Skype.
“They can do whatever to me, arrest me and put in jail or even kill me, but [I] just ask for one thing: The release of those compatriots, the release of political prisoners,” he added.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan called Sam Rainsy’s proposal a political ploy.
“It should be embarrassing,” he said. “His [Sam Rainsy’s] action, bravery and leadership is no comparison to Kem Sokha, who has never left the country despite all kinds of warning, threats, and facing arrest.”
Kem Sokha is under virtual house arrest since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to an alleged affair with a hairdresser.
The charges against both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are widely viewed as being politically motivated.
Political analyst So Chantha said he believed Sam Rainsy should return to Cambodia.
“To me, whether there is any exchange or not, Sam Rainsy’s choice should be to return to Cambodia rather than sending political statements,” he told RFA. “He should return to show his bravery to the people in a way that would help the opposition party win the upcoming election.”
Local elections in Cambodia are set for 2017, with national elections scheduled for 2018.
Hun Manet faces protests abroad
While opposition party officials face issues at home, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime is facing headwinds abroad as his eldest son who is considered his successor was heckled by overseas Cambodians during a recent visit to Australia.
In a press conference at the Phnom Penh international airport on Wednesday, Hun Manet, lashed out at demonstrations against him in Australia, saying they were ginned up by the CNRP.
“Do not forget that the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] CPP also has forces we can use, but we did not,” he said. “[CNRP lawmaker] Nhay Chamroeun goes everywhere, but the CPP does not go protesting and holding banners, and there are no demonstrations in Cambodia.”
While there may be no CPP-sponsored demonstrations in Cambodia, Nhay Chamroeun was one of two opposition lawmakers brutally beaten in front of the National Assembly building in May.
Witnesses say that about 200 young men from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s corps of bodyguards were driven in trucks to the protest and later boasted about beating the politicians.
Hun Manet is lieutenant general in the Cambodian army and is deputy commander of the bodyguard unit.
Social development researcher Meas Ny told RFA that Hun Manet is likely to become the country’s leader in future.