Murder of Cambodian activist: Man charged

A woman mourning pro-democracy campaigner Kem Ley, who was killed on Sunday, at his funeral in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The suspect claimed he shot Mr Kem Ley over an outstanding debt.
A woman mourning pro-democracy campaigner Kem Ley, who was killed on Sunday, at his funeral in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The suspect claimed he shot Mr Kem Ley over an outstanding debt.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PHNOM PENH • A Cambodian court yesterday charged a man with murdering a prominent political analyst in a shooting in broad daylight in the capital.

Police accuse Oueth Ang, 43, of gunning down pro-democracy campaigner Kem Ley, 46, at a petrol station cafe in central Phnom Penh on Sunday morning.

But in a bizarre twist to the case, prosecutors say the alleged killer insists he is called Chuob Samlab, an unlikely Khmer name meaning "meet to kill" and is in fact aged 38.

The murder has shaken Cambodian civil society in a country bristling with political tensions and where activists are frequently threatened by those with powerful interests.

Oueth Ang has been charged "with premeditated murder and carrying a weapon without authorisation", according to prosecutor Ly Sophanna, who declined to give further details of the police probe.

Officers have said the suspect claimed that he shot Mr Kem Ley over an outstanding debt.

But doubts persist over the motive in a country where the rule of law is threadbare and critics of the elite are easily silenced.

On Tuesday, the suspect's wife seeded fresh uncertainty, saying her husband did not have money to lend the victim.

"I don't believe the debt issue was the motive. Kem Ley is rich and we are poor," Oueth Ang's wife Hoeum Horth, 45, told Agence France-Presse, expressing her shock at his alleged involvement.

Mr Kem Ley, a popular radio commentator, was a regular critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, 63, who has ruled over notoriously corrupt Cambodia for three decades, as well as the political opposition.

Mr Hun Sen's government stands accused of cracking down on critics and political rivals ahead of 2018 elections, using the courts to strongarm opponents.

He has also been accused of tampering with elections, running a graft-riddled business empire and spearheading a host of rights abuses during his three decades in office.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Murder of Cambodian activist: Man charged'. Print Edition | Subscribe