ANGKOR CHUM DISTRICT, Siem Reap province – Authorities say they are continuing to investigate the murder of political analyst Kem Ley, who was shot dead in Phnom Penh four months ago today in what many believe was a political assassination.
But here in the home commune of the suspected killer, Oeuth Ang, one gets the sense that police are doing nothing.
Oeuth Ang is escorted through the Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters during a press conference on July 10. (Khem Sovannara) “After the shocking event happened they came, but since that, nothing,” said Ket Hann, 32, a cousin of Mr. Ang, 43, who lived a few minutes away down the winding dirt tracks of Nokor Pheas commune.
“I think it’s strange,” Mr. Hann added. “They should have come here to get more information, but they just came here once and never came again.”
Kem Ley’s murder, carried out in broad daylight in a gas station convenience store in central Phnom Penh, sent shockwaves through a population that was jolted back to a time when the threat of assassination was part of opposition politics and activism. The government has denied any role in the murder, but said that the shooter was likely a hired gunman.
Who may have hired Mr. Ang remains a mystery—one that the government has appeared to make no progress in figuring out, fueling speculation that the ruling party is hiding something.
“I think when you look at the Kem Ley case, it’s not different from the other cases of murder of other social activists,” said political analyst Meas Ny. “The government, often they think that—or they expect that—the case might fade away after a while so there’s no need for them to do anything.”
Mr. Ny said he was not surprised to hear that police were not even going through the motions of a proper investigation.
“The court should speed up this investigation by interviewing all people involved, especially the family of the accused,” he said. “It shows and reflects the lack of effort from the government to have an in-depth investigation on this case.”
Within an hour of the murder on July 10, police were parading Mr. Ang, who identified himself as “Chuop Samlap,” which translates as “Meet Kill,” in front of cameras, with the suspect claiming he had shot Kem Ley over an unpaid debt.
Initial skepticism only increased after family and friends of the alleged killer quickly identified him as a former monk and soldier, who they said had never even uttered Kem Ley’s name and had disappeared to Phnom Penh about 10 days before the shooting, telling a friend he had joined the military.
Although neither Mr. Ang’s wife, Hoeum Hort, nor his mother, Ek Tab, could be found in the village this week—neighbors said they were elsewhere in the province and without mobile phones—neighbors and family members all said that they had neither seen or heard of investigators coming to the area since July.
“Many people came after the shooting happened, but I haven’t seen anyone since,” said Chiv Kem, a former next-door neighbor of Mr. Ang, who remains close friends with his wife.
“We are neighbors and friends. She has never mentioned it.”
Playing cards inside Mr. Ang’s former home, three women, including Ms. Hort’s aunt, Vang Ngouch, 80, all claimed they hadn’t seen or heard from police since an initial visit in the days after the killing.
“They have never come here. I’ve never heard her talking on the phone with anyone about it and she has never told me about this,” Ms. Ngouch said of her niece.
Mourners pay their respects to slain political analyst Kem Ley at Wat Chas pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district earlier this year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily) Authorities have revealed almost no new information about Kem Ley’s murder or their investigation since the day of the murder, and continued to be tight-lipped on Wednesday.
Investigating Judge Seng Leang declined to speak about the case and referred questions to court spokesman Y Rin, who also refused to discuss the investigation.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that police had figured out the real name of the killer—whose identity has been widely known since the days after the murder—and that an unidentified individual supplied him with a gun.
“We have found that the identity of Choup Samlap is Oeuth Ang,” General Chantharith said. “He confessed that a person had brought him to Phnom Penh and bought him a gun.”
However, he said police have not figured out who that might be.
“His answers were not clear and we couldn’t find the identity, so we have few clues,” Gen. Chantharith said, declining to comment further.
Mann Sokhath, Angkor Chum district police chief, said local police had not carried out any additional interviews after making initial reports to the “top levels.”
Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, has joined a chorus of friends and supporters in calling for police to release the security camera footage of the shooting. And while he said he was certain that Mr. Ang was a hired gun, he did not expect to find out the truth.
“I believe that Choup Samlap could not have done it alone. There was somebody cooperating behind in secret,” he said. “Genuine justice does not exist in Cambodia’s current society.”
And it’s not only those seeking justice for Kem Ley who want to see the video of the murder. Back in Nokor Pheas, Mr. Hann said he was adamant that his cousin is not the one responsible for Kem Ley’s murder.
“They should show the CCTV footage to show the evidence,” he said. “I want to know what happened.”
narim@cambodiadaily.com, wright@cambodiadaily.com
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