Hundreds join funeral of murdered Cambodian govt critic Kem Ley

Cambodians pay their respects during the funeral ceremony of political analyst Kem Ley at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on July 11.
Cambodians pay their respects during the funeral ceremony of political analyst Kem Ley at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on July 11.PHOTO: AFP
Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral on July 11 of Kem Ley as the country's premier has vowed a thorough investigation.
Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral on July 11 of Kem Ley as the country's premier has vowed a thorough investigation.PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral Monday (July 11) of a prominent Cambodian political commentator gunned down in broad daylight, as the country's premier vowed a thorough investigation.

Kem Ley, a well regarded political analyst and grassroots campaigner, was shot dead on Sunday as he drank coffee at a convenience store attached to a petrol station in the capital Phnom Penh.

The slaying of the 46-year-old has shocked the nation and comes as tensions boil between strongman premier Hun Sen and the country's political opposition.

 
 

Buddhist monks led a large crowd, many wearing black and white, at a temple in Phnom Penh where Kem Ley's body was laid out, covered by Cambodia's national flag and strewn with flowers.

One distressed mourner cut his arm with a razor blade in front of the victim's body, according to an AFP journalist at the scene, in an act of protest at the silencing of the respected analyst.

Police say they have arrested the gunman, who identified himself as Chuob Samlab - an unlikely Khmer name which translates as "meet to kill" - and confessed to killing the analyst over an unpaid debt.

But the suspect's apparent motive and his name have been questioned by activists in a country where the rule of law is threadbare and criticism of powerful figures carries great risk.

Hun Sen on Monday described the murder as "a heinous act" and ordered authorities to bring anyone behind Kem Ley's murder to book.

"I hope people will let authorities conduct their work thoroughly and avoid turning this tragedy into a political case which will lead to a troubling situation," Hun Sen said.

"I hope that other politicians will not politicise this case to incite (people), that would lead the nation into chaos," he added.

Police could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Washington led the international outcry over the murder of a well-known anti-government critic.

The US was "deeply saddened and concerned by reports of the tragic killing," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

"We are following developments in this case closely, noting the Cambodian government's call for an investigation, and urge that authorities ensure this process be thorough and impartial," he added.

Kem Ley was critical of both the government and opposition parties, advocating for a new era of clean politics in a notoriously corrupt nation which is expected to hold a general election in 2018.

Hun Sen, a former army commander who defected from the Khmer Rouge, has held power alongside a small but powerful coterie of political allies that have become enormously wealthy during his 31-year rule.

Scores of government critics and rights workers have been arrested in recent months while others have been tied up in ongoing legal cases.