Gunman called ‘Meet to Kill’ admits murdering Cambodian critic for ‘unpaid debt’

Former soldier confesses to killing, but family doubts it

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 10:57pm

An unemployed former Cambodian soldier who calls himself “Meet to Kill” admitted to the brazen murder of a renowned government critic on Wednesday, saying the hit was in revenge for an unpaid debt.

Doubt was immediately cast over his apparent motive by Kem Ley’s supporters in a country with a long and dark history of political assassinations.

Oeuth Ang, a former soldier who had little steady work, shot Kem Ley in the head while his victim was having a morning coffee at a Phnom Penh gas station in July.

He told the court that he gave $3,000 to the outspoken activist for a property deal that went bad -- more than double Cambodia’s average annual wage.

Pleading guilty at a four-hour trial in the capital, the 44-year-old said he acted alone after following Kem Ley for days to find the right moment to strike.

“I shot twice,” he told the court. “The first bullet struck his head but I was afraid he would not die, so I fired another shot at him.”

But the accused now said he “felt regret” for the killing.

Throughout, Oeuth Ang insisted the court address him by his nickname Chuob Samlab, which in Khmer means “meet to kill” - a moniker given to him during his years as a soldier.

He faces life in prison.

Tens of thousands turned out for Kem Ley’s funeral in scenes that rattled the government of ruling strongman Hun Sen.

The prime minister’s more than three decade rule has seen multiple critics murdered in rarely solved cases, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Kem Ley was an eloquent and charismatic critic of Cambodia’s politicians in both the ruling government and its opposition.

He set up a new grassroots political movement, although it has now abandoned plans to field candidates in upcoming local elections this year.

In the days before his death, he gave interviews on a report alleging Hun Sen’s family to have amassed huge wealth.

The killer’s motive has been questioned by Kem Ley’s wife, who has since fled to Thailand fearing for her safety, as well as friends of both the victim and his killer.

Am Sam Ath, from local rights group Licadho, questioned why the court had not made more effort to explore where the apparently poor killer got hold of so much money to lend the victim.

“I believe that Chuob Samlab alone could not kill Kem Ley,” he said.

Oeuth Ang said the cash he gave to Kem Ley came from the sale of a plot of land he owned. He added he spent an additional $1,400 on the gun used to kill Kem Ley.

Cambodian media reports have suggested the accused lived precariously since leaving the army, see-sawing between gambling and moving into Buddhist temples when he ran out of cash.

While the court accepted Oeuth Ang’s guilty plea, none of the other nine witnesses - including police - were called to testify about his finances.