Khmer News in En

Thousands of Cambodians Mourn Slain Critic Kem Ley

Thousands of  Cambodians gathered at a Buddhist temple in the capital on Saturday to mourn slain government critic Kem Ley, a popular commentator praised as a hero for his fearless political analysis.

Supporters gave funeral alms to 600 Buddhist monks at Watt Bodhiyaram in Phnom Penh , where Kem Ley’s flower-covered glass coffin was being displayed.

“It’s hard to find such a brave person like him in Cambodia,” Hak Kin, a mourner at the temple, told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“If I were able to trade in my life with his to make him alive now, I would not hesitate to do so. His life is more important,” he said.

“I am very saddened by this great loss,” said Ath Thun, president of Cambodia’s largest independent trade union, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

“He’s a real hero in our hearts. Even though there was no such official recognition, he truly was our hero,” he told RFA.

Kem Ley, 46, was murdered on July 10 at a gas station convenience store that he often stopped at to talk with friends. He was shot twice at point-blank range.

A Cambodian court charged a former soldier named Oueth Ang with premeditated murder on Wednesday 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.

Initial plans to move Kem Ley to his home village in Takeo province have been put on hold in the face of potential conflict over what is expected to be a large funeral procession .

“If there are any constraints or tension in the procession of Kem Ley’s body to his home village then I  will decide not to go there,” Kem Ley’s pregnant widow, Pou Rachana told RFA.

“I do not want to move Kem Ley’s body to a distant location — to his home village as planned — because I think that my family’s situation is very fragile and it will be very difficult to travel back and forth,” she said.

“The best choice would be looking for a nearby location.”

Fearless critic mourned

Kem Ley was also honored by Cambodian communities in the United States, with ceremonies at Buddhist temples in Massachusetts, Florida and other places.

Political tension between long-ruling strongman Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been intensifying this year as the parties prepare to contest local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

A widely quoted analyst, Kem Ley had appeared on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness documenting how Hun Sen and his family have amassed a $200 million fortune. The Hun family has dismissed the report.

“I listened to Dr. Kem Ley on radios. I liked him for being very straightforward and truthful in his criticism,” Phnom Penh taxi driver Phuong Ko told RFA.

“He was a Khmer hero. He loved his country and people so much. He was killed because he spoke the truth.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Cambodian Court Orders Kem Sokha to Stay in the Country

Cambodian authorities on Thursday barred opposition leader Kem Sokha from leaving the country as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government continues to ratchet up the pressure on his rivals.

In a court warrant posted in front of Kem Sokha’s home, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced that it had placed the acting Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president under court monitoring as a “charged person.”

A caucus of CNRP members of parliament decried the warrant, saying authorities were violating article 80 of Cambodia’s constitution that guarantees immunity from prosecution for lawmakers for opinions expressed while exercising their duties.

Article 80 can be suspended on a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, and there is a loophole in the law that allows prosecution if a lawmaker is deemed in flagrant violation of the law.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court chief prosecutor Yet Chakriya charged Kem Sokha with committing a “flagrant” crime by twice ignoring summonses to answer questions in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with Khom Chandaraty, a young hairdresser.

Kem Sokha has remained holed up in CNRP headquarters since heavily armed police attempted to arrest him in May for failing to appear in court.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson and deputy prosecutor, Ly Sophanna, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court is following proper procedures by placing Kem Sokha under court monitoring.

No help needed

The move comes as the government rejected calls by international institutions for an independent investigation into the murder of popular government critic Kem Ley. While the two men’s surnames are spelled the same in English they are different in Khmer and they are not related.

“The government does not need to set up an investigative commission, or to seek foreign assistance. The Cambodian authorities are very competent in this investigation,” said Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Kem Ley was murdered on Sunday when he was shot twice at point blank range while having coffee. Oueth Ang, who goes by the alias Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill,” has been charged with the crime.

Cambodian authorities say Kem Ley was killed over a $3,000 debt, but relatives of both men say that makes little sense.

Confidence in a fair, thorough investigation into the murder is so low in Cambodia that a crowd refused to allow Kem Ley’s body to be removed from the Caltex convenience store where he was killed out of concern that the police would tamper or destroy evidence.

Growing International Concern

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. leader is concerned about the situation in Cambodia.

“The Secretary-General is saddened to learn of the killing of Kem Ley,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general. “He hopes that the authorities will mount a full and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the shooting.”

U.N. officials, including the special rapporteurs for Cambodia, human rights defenders, freedom of expression and assembly, and summary executions, called for an independent investigation on Wednesday.

“This investigation should be conducted by an independent body with no ties to the government,” they said in a statement. “The circumstances of Mr. Kem Ley’s death have given rise to deep concerns in view of his standing as a critic of the government and his regular comments in the media highlighting governance and human rights concerns.”

U.S. officials also expressed concern today as the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a resolution that includes a call for Hun Sen to “end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s opposition” and “drop all politically motivated charges against opposition lawmakers.”

“The recent violence against opposition leaders shows the true, thuggish nature of the Hun Sen regime,” said committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) “We need to continue to press for a return to democracy for the sake of the Cambodian people.”

Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Murder Charges Filed in Death of Cambodian Government Critic

A Cambodian court charged Oueth Ang with premeditated murder on Wednesday for the execution-style killing of government critic Kem Ley, as international organizations including the U.N. called for a “proper” investigation into his death.

The alleged killer insists on being called Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill,” deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana told reporters, who were barred from the courtroom.

Court officials said the nickname would be used in documents for now, according to a report by the Associated Press. If convicted, Oueth Ang could be sentenced to life in prison.

Kem Ley was murdered on Sunday at a gas station convenience store that he often stopped at to talk with friends. He was shot twice at point-blank range.

Authorities have said that Kem Ley was killed over an outstanding debt, but Oueth Ang’s wife says that’s impossible because the couple has no money.

“I don’t believe the debt issue was the motive,” Hoeum Horth told AFP, explaining her shock at his alleged involvement. “Kem Ley is rich and we are poor.”

Also charged on Wednesday was a man who allegedly sold the gun Oueth Ang used in the crime. While the man was not identified, Ly Sophana told reporters he was charged with illegal weapons trafficking.

The charges come as the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for a thorough investigation into Kem Ley’s killing.

International concern

“The U.N. welcomes the government of Cambodia’s appeal to open an investigation and to arrest the suspect,” OHCHR spokesperson Cecile Pouilly told RFA’s Khmer Service via e-mail. “The U.N. urges the authorities to investigate this murder case properly, and they must ensure that those involved in Dr. Kem Ley’s murder be brought to trial and punished in accordance with the law.”

The OHCHR also called on Cambodian authorities to take steps to ensure the safety of human rights activists, politicians, and members of Cambodian civil society, in the run up to local and general elections set for 2017 and 2018.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Swiss organization dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law, urged Cambodian authorities to seek forensic help in the investigation.

There are already concerns about events that took place immediately after the killing which may have harmed the investigation, the organization said in a statement. A large crowd gathered after the shooting and refused to allow Kem Ley’s body to be transported in an official vehicle, possibly compromising the crime scene.

“Where it lacks capacity, Cambodia should seek technical assistance from states and international organizations, particularly in the specialized areas of closed circuit television and telecommunication data analysis which may assist in establishing the identification and movements of the perpetrator and whether he or she acted alone or with others,” said Kingsley Abbott, ICJ senior international legal adviser.

Police officials have said they recovered the closed circuit TV security cameras at the store where Kem Ley was killed.

Identity questions

While the police have a man in custody, there are still questions about his identity. In addition to the confusion surrounding his name, reports suggest that he was an employee of the Siem Reap Environment Department. Officials have dismissed the reports as false.

Phuong Lyna, head of the Siem Reap Environment Department, said the uniform, logo, and ID badge in photographs of Oueth Ang do not come from his department.

It appears that Oeuth Ang may have been on the staff of the nongovernmental organization Environmental Protection and Development Organization (EPDO).

One colleague, Oum Oeung, told RFA he had not seen the suspect for about a month. Six days prior to Kem Ley’s murder, though, he received a phone call from Oueth Ang, telling him that he was in Phnom Penh working as a soldier for $300.00 per month. Oum Oeung said he did not know what military unit Oeuth Ang may have joined.

“I said ‘Ah! You got a very good job,’” he told RFA. “Let find me one so that when I get old and retire I have a pension.”

A political backdrop

Tensions have been rising in Cambodia as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) look to continue their more than three decades in power.

Cambodia’s current political situation has seen Hun Sen throw opponents in jail, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy flee into exile, and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president Kem Sokha hole up in the party headquarters to avoid arrest.

The ICJ’s Abbott also expressed concern about the investigation because Cambodia has a history of political violence.

“In the context of Cambodia’s long history of impunity in cases of allegedly politically motivated killings, and even though a suspect is already in custody, the authorities must continue the investigation in a transparent and methodical manner until all potential lines of inquiry have been exhausted,” he said.

Kem Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying she was afraid to stay in the country, fears for the safety of her four children and wants to leave for Australia, where people have made offers of support.

“[Before], we felt happy and comfortable living in the country, but now there is no safety and we are concerned about my family,” she said according to the report.

Bou Rachana is pregnant with the couple’s fifth child.

Reported by Zakariya Tin and Savyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Former Lao Deputy PM Joins Monastery

Laos’s former deputy prime minister Somsavat Lengsavad has been ordained a Buddhist monk at Phonphao temple in his hometown Luang Prabang in the northern part of the country, sources told RFA.

Somsavat, an ethnic Chinese, entered the order on Sunday to study Theravada Buddhist teachings at the temple which sits on a hill southeast of the city across the Nam Khan River, they said.

Of the two main types of Buddhism, Theravada is more conservative than Mahayana Buddhism, and is practiced predominantly Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

“The reason he became an ordained monk is because he wants to attain mental tranquility for the rest of his life following his retirement from politics,” said a source in Luang Prabang who requested anonymity.

Somsavat originally decided that he would become a monk at the age of 71 in central Laos’ Savannakhet province after he failed to apply for membership in the country’s Politburo earlier this year during his third term of office, according to a source close to Somsavat’s former subordinates.

But Somsavat reconsidered and decided to pursue monkhood in his hometown, said the source who declined to be named.

“When he was a deputy prime minister, he was active in attending religious rites in temples and [financially] supported a monk in one temple,” said a retired soldier familiar with the country’s top politicians.

“Soon after he retired, I heard from a person close to him that he would be ordained,” he said.

The source in Luang Prabang told RFA that Somsavat would remain a monk at first for seven days, but would consider a longer time frame depending on the state of his health.

“If his health is OK, he will stay longer,” he said.

Removed from office

Somsavat became foreign minister in 1993 and served until June 8, 2006, when he was replaced by Thongloun Sisoulith, who became prime minister in April 2016.

Earlier this year, the country’s 10th Party Congress removed Somsavat from his position.

The congress also removed former president Choummaly Sayasone as general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, replacing him with former vice president Bounnhang Vorachith.

Both Somsavat and Choummaly were involved in granting large economic concessions to Chinese companies, many of which are state-owned, during the past 10 years.

The concessions raised concerns among the country’s ruling elite and citizenry that the regime was tilting too far toward Beijing and away from neighboring Vietnam, with which Laos has a special relationship based on their shared wartime history and communist alignment.

Somsavat had been overseeing a U.S. $7 billion Lao-China railway project, which included a U.S. $480 million loan from China that Laos plans to back with five of its potash mines.

The railway forms part of a larger 3,000-kilometer regional rail link that will run from Kunming in southern China’s Yunnan province through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore. It will transport both goods and passengers through the region and is expected to give the underdeveloped, landlocked nation a much-needed economic boost.

“It is clear that after the regime of President Choumaly Sayasone and Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad there is no pro-Chinese group,” the retired Lao soldier with close ties to the Ministry of National Defense told RFA’s Lao Service in January.

Critics of the former leaders also blamed their regime for the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption, an official at a civil society organization told RFA in January after the congress got under way.

The country’s current leaders at the top of the secretive one-party state are all viewed to be pro-Hanoi.

It is not unusual for former leaders in predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian countries to join a monastery after they step down from politics to gain merit or seek atonement for any wrongdoings.

Thein Sein, who served as Myanmar’s president for five years, also became a monk after he left office at the end of March.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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‘I Am Safer Behind Bars,’ Cambodian Opposition Lawmaker Says

While they remain unbowed by the execution-style slaying of government critic Kem Ley, opponents of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen say they could easily suffer the same fate as the popular activist.

Kem Ley was shot twice at point blank range on Sunday while sitting alone inside a Caltex gas station at the intersection of Monivong and Mao Zedong boulevards in Phnom Penh, where he liked to have coffee and talk with friends.

“Paradoxically, I am safer behind bars,” opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An told RFA’s Khmer Service. “If I were outside of the prison, I would have the same fate as that of Kem Ley, who was gunned down because he had the guts to criticize the government and the Hun family members based on the Global Witness report.”

Just days before he was killed, Kem Ley had appeared on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness that documented how Hun Sen and his family have amassed a fortune in excess of $200 million. The Hun family has dismissed the report.

Um Sam An was jailed in April after Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to neighboring Vietnam. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker made his remarks as he was being led away from an appearance at the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.

His arrest and charges came even though lawmakers are guaranteed immunity by Cambodia’s constitution unless two-thirds of the National Assembly vote to approve of the arrest. There is a loophole in the law, however, that allows lawmakers to be arrested if they are caught in the act of committing a crime.

His case has been widely seen as another instance of the persecution of the political opposition by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Border criticism

Um Sam An said Kem Ley had also criticized the government over the Vietnam border issue–seen as a weak spot for Hun Sen, who was installed by Hanoi three decades ago while Cambodia was embroiled in a civil war.

“He also dared to give his criticism on the border issues,” he said. “Those who allow our land to be seized remain at large while we who protest the loss of the land are jailed.”

While police have a suspect in custody, authorities first reported his name as Chuop Samlap, which means “Meet to Kill” in Khmer, but later said he was an ex-Buddhist monk named Oeuth Ang.

Authorities say the suspect told them he killed Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt, a story that has been challenged by the suspect’s wife and by family members and people who knew the slain researcher and leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer.

On Monday, 70 Cambodian civil society organizations condemned the murder and demanded “a prompt, independent and thorough investigation, including a forensic examination by an independent and expert pathologist, so that Kem Ley and his family can receive justice.”

‘The crime was orchestrated’

But Buntenh, head of the Buddhism for Peace Organization, told RFA’s Khmer Service he was convinced “the crime was orchestrated.”

He told RFA that he met Kem Ley just days before his death to discuss the challenges they faced, and the normally optimistic analyst told him: “Now the time has come. We will not be spared. They are going to kill us in the very near future.”

But Buntenh added: “The name of the suspect itself tells it all. Chuop Samlap means ‘meet to kill.’ Let’s not just prosecute him. Let’s cast a wider net to hold those who hired him accountable as well.”

After being questioned from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Kem Ley’s suspected killer, who has no legal representation, remains in police custody. Charges are expected to be filed on Wednesday, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna.

Artificial killer?

While critics are questioning the government’s actions, a Ministry of Interior spokesman attempted to dissuade people from jumping to conclusions, saying authorities have retrieved security cameras from the crime scene.

“We have seized the cameras now. It’s not true that the memory in the cameras is blank,” said ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak. “Please try not to confuse the public with rumors. Otherwise people will think he is an artificial killer.”

“Artificial killer” is term used in Cambodia for a scapegoat in a high-profile killing. The term become popular after the death of Chea Vichea, another government critic who led the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. He was gunned down in 2004 at a newsstand in Phnom Penh.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service.Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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19 Trafficked Myanmar Migrants Rescued From Fishing Boat Off Thailand

Thai police and a Myanmar nongovernmental organization that helps migrant workers have rescued 19 trafficked Myanmar fishermen forced to work aboard a fishing boat in slave-like conditions, the director of the NGO said.

The Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) and the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) of the Royal Thai Police found the men on Sunday in a boat moored off the southern Thai city of Pattani, said MAT director Kyaw Thaung.

They range in age from 13 to 34 and are from southern Myanmar’s Mon and Tanintharyi region and from western Rakhine state, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We found and saved the 19 Myanmar fishermen in the Pattani region near the Thailand-Malaysia border,” he said.

“They were locked inside an Indonesian fishing boat and couldn’t go anywhere,” Kyaw Thaung said.

“A police officer from Dawei [in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region] called me and gave me this information,” he said. “We asked the AHTD for help, and together we found the victims.”

The men will be sent to immigration camps in Thailand and return home after six months or a year, he said.

MAT has collaborated with the AHTD for several years to crack down on human trafficking.

Officials make arrests

Thai police have now arrested a Thai businessman and a Myanmar woman from Mon State who were accused of being directly involved in the trafficking, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

The woman had promised six of the men jobs that paid about U.S. $260 a month at a factory in Pattaya, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, but instead transported them to Pattani, the report said, citing MAT communications officer Sai Aye as the source.

The rescued fishermen testified at the nearby police station that about 80 other trafficked fishermen from Myanmar were also being held against their will at an unknown location in southern Thailand, the report said.

Thailand’s fishing industry relies heavily on trafficked and forced labor, especially from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, according to a 2014 report issued by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the environment and defending human rights.

Many of the estimated 200,000 migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries have been trafficked and forced to work in appalling conditions with no pay and subjected to brutal subjugation, the report said.

The EJF called on the Thai government to identify and prosecute criminals, corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesspeople and enforce measures to regulate the country’s fishing industry and recruitment practices.

Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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