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Hundreds Mark Murder of Union Activist

Hundreds of people gathered in Phnom Penh Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of the murder of popular labor leader Chea Vichea.

The crowd amassed at the headquarters of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which was once led by Chea Vichea and is now led by his younger brother, Chea Mony.

“I attended the anniversary today to show that I want the government to find justice for Chea Vichea,” said Chanty, a 23-year-old worker from Cambohanse Factory.

Chea Vichea was gunned down in broad daylight in front of a newspaper stand near Wat Lanka, in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, on the morning of Jan. 22, 2004.

He had been a popular leader of garment factory workers, capable of calling huge demonstrations in Cambodia’s only real export industry.

Two men, Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, were subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing. But both are widely considered innocent, and in December the Supreme Court ordered a review of their case by the Appeals Court and ordered their temporary release.

Human rights officials say the true killers of Chea Vichea remain at large, and on Thursday opposition leader Sam Rainsy urged further investigation into the killing and called on the US administration of newly elected president Barack Obama to help.

“Please, new president Barack Obama, help the Khmer people to seek the real killers and to punish them by law,” Sam Rainsy told the crowd. “I believe there is still someone behind the killers. So the real killers should be unmasked.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak said police had not closed the investigation and were waiting for Phnom Penh Municipal Court for a request to resume the search.

Municipal court officials said the case of Chea Vichea was in the hands of the Appeals Court, but Appeals Court officials said they were waiting for the case to come from the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Vice President Khim Pon declined to comment.

Hong Kim Suon, lawyer for Sok Samoeun, said the case remained at the Supreme Court and he was not sure when it would move to the Appeals Court.