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Call to find real killers of union leader

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Unionists, workers and civil society organisations gathered yesterday. KT/Khy Sovuthy

Unionists, workers and civil society organisations yesterday asked authorities to find the murderers of prominent union leader Chea Vichea while marking the anniversary of his death.

More than 50 union members, factory workers and representatives of civil society observed the 14th anniversary of his killing, but the number of participants was less than recent years.

Chea Mony, a former Free Trade Union president and the younger brother of Mr Vichea, was absent from the gathering yesterday, reportedly overseas the day he had also been summoned to court for questioning.

Mr Vichea had just bought his morning newspapers on January 22, 2004, when an unmasked man walked up and fired two shots at the popular union leader, killing him instantly.

Former union leader Chea Vichea was murdered on January 22, 2004. KT/Khy Sovuthy

More than 10,000 supporters turned out for his funeral procession.

Police quickly arrested two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, days after the killing, but a judge dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence. Phnom Penh Municipal Court overturned that decision, however, and both were sentenced to 20 years in jail for the murder in August 2005.

Mr Samnang and Mr Sam Oeun – long considered scapegoats – were exonerated by the Supreme Court in September 2013 and freed. Despite police saying the investigation into Mr Vichea’s murder was reopened, there has been no indication of progress since then.

A statement issued yesterday and signed by FTU president Touch Soeu said that Mr Vichea’s murderers had still not been punished 14 years later.

Many have called on the goverment to find the true perpetrators. KT/Khy Sovuthy

“The FTU appeals and requests judicial authorities, especially the government, to investigate and find the real murderers and the people who ordered the murderers to kill Chea Vichea to punish them according to the law and strengthen social justice in Cambodia,” it said.

FTU vice president Man Seng Hak said at the ceremony that the municipal court prosecutor had issued an official letter on January 28, 2014 requesting the National Police commissioner help his officials investigate the murder and collect evidence to send to the municipal court.

“However, for nearly three years, the National Police have still not investigated to find out who murdered Chea Vichea,” he said. “We hope some light will be shed in the future.”

Vorn Pao, president of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, said he attended the ceremony to pay his respects to the late union leader who was a hero to garment workers.

“I asked Chea Vichea’s family to stay calm and said I hope his family receives justice,” he added.

Rong Chhun, who was just appointed as an advisor to the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association after recently resigning as a member of the National Election Committee, said that for 14 years, the family of Mr Vichea along with unionists, workers, and civil society officials had not seen justice.

Mr Chhun also noted Mr Mony’s absence yesterday, as well as the lack of any prominent officials in attendance.

“I request the government help to speed up the investigation to find the murderers and the people behind the murderers to punish them by the law,” he said.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said Mr Vichea was a hero of garment workers and would never be forgotten.

“I ask all garment workers to continue defending our interests like Chea Vichea,” he said, while also requesting that authorities find the true perpetrators.

Mr Seng Hak, the FTU vice president, added he had heard Mr Mony asked the municipal court to delay his questioning because he did not have a lawyer.

“He is busy with a mission abroad but I don’t know where he went,” he said.

On December 18, about 120 federations and unions filed a lawsuit against Mr Mony after he appealed to the European Union to put sanctions on Cambodia in the wake of the opposition CNRP’s dissolution.

Sieng Sok, deputy prosecutor of the municipal court in charge of Mr Mony’s case, said he had not received a letter from Mr Mony requesting a delay.

“We will process this case following procedures,” he said. Mr Sok added the court could issue a second summons depending on the circumstances. National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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