12 Years On, Gov’t Handling of Chea Vichea’s Murder Blasted

Standing on the sidewalk in front of Phnom Penh’s Wat Lanka, where union leader Chea Vichea was gunned down 12 years ago to the day, opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said on Friday that the lack of transparency in the investigation into the murder was still stoking suspicion of government involvement in the killing.

In what has become an annual tradition, around 100 unionists and opposition politicians gathered at the site to pay their respects to the man who founded the Free Trade Union (FTU) and launched the country’s labor movement.

“The search for the murderers and the people behind the murderers has seemed secret…this secrecy causes both the national and international community to suspect officials in the government,” Mr. Chhay Eang said during the ceremony.

Chea Vichea was shot dead in broad daylight on the morning of January 22, 2004. More than 10,000 union members and supporters marched in the union leader’s fu­neral procession.

Police arrested Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun days after the killing, but a judge dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence.

How­ever, in June that year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court reversed the decision and the pair were convicted of murder in August 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After a protracted legal battle and years of advocacy on their behalf, the pair were again exonerated and released in 2013.

Chea Mony, who replaced his brother as head of the FTU following his murder, questioned the gov­ernment’s sincerity in its efforts to find those responsible for the braz­en assassination of Chea Vichea, along with other union leaders and government critics.

“We are very disappointed with the present government. We are the people and we had hope in the government, but it is the opposite. The government has not tried to arrest the murderers of unionists, actresses, journalists, politicians and other victims,” Mr. Mony said during the ceremony.

“It means the government does not have the intention to find the murderers and the people behind the murderers.”

Deputy National Police Com­missioner Kang Sokhorn said the investigation into Chea Vichea’s murder was ongoing, and drew an analogy with the investigation into the murder of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

“For example, John Kennedy’s murder—they have also not found the murderers until now even though the United States of Amer­ica is a powerful country,” he said.

In fact, Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine, was identified as the sole shooter of John F. Ken­nedy, though the conclusion has been subject to much speculation.

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