Funcinpec activist Em Sopheap—who led a street clash the week deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh returned to Cambodia—was killed last week in a motorbike accident, according to friends and family.
But none said they suspect foul play.
Em Sopheap, 28, died Wednesday of internal injuries following a head-on collision with another motorcycle, said his father, Em Thon.
Political intimidation after the April 1 rally and the hotel worker’s death lead to rumors that he had been assassinated.
Em Sopheap, also known as “Mr John,” left the Nanjing Hotel on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard at about 2:30 am Wednesday after drinking heavily, according to his friend Top Vanna, who said he urged him to drive slowly.
He collided with another motorbike near the Olympic Market, killing the other two passengers. Em Sopheap died later in Kossamak Hospital at about 5 pm, Em Thon said.
“It’s a real accident,” Top Vanna said. “I don’t think it’s related to anything political,” he said.
El Saneang, chief of the municipal traffic police, did not know details of the accident but said two people had died in the accident instead of three.
“People coming from the opposite direction died too, so I believe it was an accident,” Em Thon said.
Em Sopheap led an impromptu roving protest on the morning of April 1 when about 100 pro-prince demonstrators were pushed out of the park in front of the hotel where the prince was staying.
The demonstrators, while riding on motorbikes, drove for two hours stopping to shout anti-Vietnamese slogans near ministry buildings and embassies.
Later in the day when anti-prince protesters marched toward the hotel, Em Sopheap led a motorbike-charge around Wat Phnom to confront them.
The pro-prince drivers were met with a barrage of rocks and chunks of concrete. Em Sopheap was pictured on the front page of the April 2 Cambodia Daily fleeing the melee and abandoning his motorbike.
The day the photo appeared, three men dressed in bodyguard uniforms asked about him at the Nanjing Hotel, where he worked as a driver, a human rights official said Monday. Em Sopheap was not at work at the time, but after hearing of the men, he went to the organization to file a report.
“He was concerned and scared,” the official said. Journalists and “strangers without uniforms” came to their house looking for his son, Em Thon said.
Shortly afterward, Em Sopheap went into hiding in Svay Rieng province for a month, according to Top Vanna. He later returned to Phnom Penh, but found he had lost his job, he added.
After returning, Em Thon said there were no visits from strangers, but the family was still worried about his safety.
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