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Many Unanswered Questions Remain in Kem Ley Murder Case: Observers

Mourners hold a portrait of Cambodian government critic Kem Ley during a funeral ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

An investigation by broadcaster Al Jazeera in the aftermath of the murder uncovered evidence that Oeut Ang had met with military officials in the weeks prior to the killing.

Cambodian officials are continuing to investigate the murder of prominent political analyst Kem Ley last year despite the courts having convicted the apparent killer in March, according to police.

But rights groups say without a thorough, independent investigation into the murder justice will be lacking.

More than 60 international and local rights groups on March 23, the day Oeut Ang was sentenced to life for Ley’s murder, called on the government to broaden its investigation, pointing to alleged shortcomings in the official probe into the killing.

Kirt Chantharith, spokesman for National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun, told VOA Khmer that the police are continuing to investigate the circumstances of Ley’s death.

“We don’t rush to close such a case. Our investigation is still ongoing as long as we have more leads,” he said.

However, he notes that no leads have been identified and as such the investigation may be dropped.

Ang, who claims his name is Choub Samlap, which means “Meet Kill” in Khmer, confessed to the murder, which he said he carried out over an unpaid debt, a claim that many Cambodia watchers say is highly unlikely.

Kingsley Abbott, a senior legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists, says Ang’s version of events fails to credibly explain the circumstances surrounding Ley’s killing.

Ley was gunned down at a Caltex gas station in central Phnom Penh on June 10. Ang claims that a man identified as “Pou Lis” introduced him to Ley, while another man he names as “Chork” sold him the murder weapon.

An investigation by broadcaster Al Jazeera in the aftermath of the murder uncovered evidence that Ang had met with military officials in the weeks prior to the killing, while one of his friends claimed Ang had been hired by the military.

Yung Phanith, Ang’s lawyer, said police had initially not attempted to locate the two alleged accomplices, Lis and Chork, believing this part of Ang’s story to be a fabrication.

“Now the court is to hear their case, after the prosecutor suggested further investigation on them is required,” he added.

Court analysts also say that video evidence presented at Ang’s trial was inconclusive as it did not establish a clear sequence of events before and after the shooting and that the published footage was incomplete.

Bou Rachana, Ley’s widow, has repeatedly denied that Ley knew Ang or was in debt, while media reports have questioned how Ang, who was apparently virtually destitute, was able to lend thousands of dollars to a successful public figure.

Sebastian Strangio, a journalist and author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia”, agreed that there are many “unanswered questions”, adding that it appeared the government was trying to “close the book on this case.”

“He [Ley] had taken these principles and principles of accountability and related them to people in the rural idioms that was directly relevant to their life experience,” said Strangio. “I think that is something that made him a threat to the government.”

David Chandler, a scholar of Cambodian history, said with local elections just two months away the unanswered questions in this case paints a “gloomy” political landscape.

He adds that for the sake of gaining more votes in the elections “there might not be more political assassinations”.

“I think Hun Sen just wants to make sure that CPP will win the election. That is the point,” he added.