Three women political candidates have been shot dead, as violence escalates in the lead-up to Cambodia's first local elections.
Party members and police say one candidate from the Sam Rainsy Party and two candidates for the royalist Funcinpec party were murdered in the past few days. The husband of one candidate also was killed.
Tauch Sien (42), a widow and mother of four children, was shot dead by two men Saturday night. The Sam Rainsy Party candidate was reportedly sleeping in her home in the southeast province of Svay Rieng when she was killed.
Ngoun Choun (53), a Funcinpec candidate for village chief, was gunned down Thursday in the southeastern coastal province of Kampot.
Another Funcinpec candidate, Long Thon (43), and her husband were shot Friday, while working in their rice field in Kampot province.
All three were candidates in the February 3 elections for leaders of more than 1,600 communes in the country.
Independent rights groups have yet to investigate the killings. Local officials in Kampot and Svay Rieng say preliminary evidence indicates the four deaths are the result of robberies, or personal disputes, and are not politically motivated.
Some rights groups worry the killings could threaten efforts by party members and activists to bring more women into Cambodia's male-dominated political system.
Yi Kosalvathanak is the head of monitoring and investigation at the local human rights group Adhoc. He says the murders show that the government must do more to protect the public, as well as candidates. "A very serious investigation should be conducted by police in independent ways, so it can show to the public that some strong action was taken," he said. "For me, it doesn't matter the motive, but the killings show the threat to the people, and especially to the candidate."
Despite government promises to crack down on pre-election violence, political parties, human rights groups, and diplomats have reported more than a dozen suspected political killings and acts of political violence and intimidation. The government says none of the incidents is linked to the election.