[Marxism] 'Murder of Cambodian union leader becomes political footbal'

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Feb 14 06:46:17 MST 2004

CAMBODIA: Unionist’s murder becomes political football

Allen Myers, Phnom Penh (excerpt)

On January 29, police announced the arrest of two people they accuse
of fatally shooting Chea Vichea, the president of the Free Trade Union
of Workers.

Vichea was killed a week earlier, as he read newspapers at a news
stall on one of the main streets of the city. Two men on a motorcycle
pulled up at the stall. The passenger got off, shot Vichea with a
pistol three times at close range, returned to the motorcycle and
escaped. Vichea died on the spot.

On January 25, tens of thousands of mourners, mostly garment workers,
marched in the funeral procession or attended the cremation ceremony
for the slain union leader. Rumours that police were blocking
truckloads of mourners from reaching the city centre proved false; in
fact, police directed traffic and helped to ensure an unhindered

Political charges Sam Rainsy, the leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy
Party (SRP), which Vichea supported, lost no time in seeking to make
political capital of the killing. On the day of the murder, he
declared it a deed of the government, although he offered no evidence.

On January 27, Rainsy went further, telling a press conference that
the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen
were plotting to kill him and four other people: Eng Chhay Ieng, the
secretary-general of the SRP; Prince Norodom Sirivudh, the
secretary-general of Funcinpec; Kem Sokha, a former Funcinpec senator
who now heads an NGO funded by the US government, the Cambodian Center
for Human Rights; and Rong Chhun, the head of the Cambodian
Independent Teachers’ Association.

Rainsy’s accusations further increased tensions. The current political
stalemate has so far prevented the creation of a new government
following national elections on July 27.

Prior to the elections, Funcinpec was the smaller partner in a
coalition government with the CPP. After the election, in which the
CPP won an increased majority — 73 out of 123 seats — Funcinpec and
the SRP formed a misnamed “Alliance of Democrats”.

Because of a constitutional anomaly — two-thirds vote of the National
Assembly is required to approve a government — the old government, of
which Funcinpec ministers are still nominally a part, continues in
office. Funcinpec and the SRP are demanding that they both be included
in a new government, which they want to carry out their program rather
than the program of the winning party.

Suspects The two suspects are Born Samnang, 23, the alleged gunman,
and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, charged with being the driver of the motorcycle.
Police said the two admitted having been promised US$5000 to kill
Vichea and having been given a down payment of $1500. The police said
that they were still looking for the person who had solicited the

Police also displayed a pistol, the alleged murder weapon, saying that
Samnang had led them to its hiding place after he confessed.

When displayed to reporters on January 29, however, the two loudly
proclaimed their innocence and said they had been beaten into signing
confessions. Oeun claimed that he had not known Samnang prior to his

The next day, Samnang retracted his denial and publicly stated that
his confession was accurate. But Oeun continued to deny any role in
the murder.


Motives Opposition politicians, who demanded an immediate arrest of
the killers on January 22, immediately denounced the arrest of the two
murder suspects a week later as a “show” and a “joke”, without stating
exactly what they found improbable in the police account. And, of
course, the police do not claim to have answered the fundamental
question: who organised what was clearly a case of murder for hire?

Whether the killing was really carried out by Born Samnang and Oeun or
by two other people, it seems likely that the killers would have been
hired through an intermediary and so would not know either the
identity or the motive of the person or persons who paid for the
murder. The trail cannot be followed further than the immediate
killers unless the police can find the intermediary.

However, the idea that the killing was directly political seems
unlikely. While Vichea was an active supporter of the SRP, he was not
an influential politician — dead he is more damaging to the CPP than
he was while alive.

Vichea is more likely to have made fatal enemies in connection with
his union activities. Cambodia’s garment industry, which has sprung up
only since the mid-1990s, has often been characterised by thuggery and
violence. The unions in it are small, divided and easily attacked when
their officers cannot be bought off.

Full article: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/570/570p20.htm>
>From Green Left Weekly, February 11, 2004.

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