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'Artificial Killers' Released in Cambodia

Born Samnang (2nd L) and Sok Sam Oeun (2nd R) are escorted by police officers at the Supreme Court in central Phnom Penh, Sept. 25, 2013.
Cambodia has released two men dubbed 'the artificial killers' and seen by many as scapegoats for the high profile killing of a leading labor activist.

The country's Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, citing a lack of evidence against the pair.

A lawyer for Born Samnang, Chum Sovannaly, told VOA's Khmer service it is not clear if his client will seek damages for his confinement.

"I have discussed with him whether he wants to file complaints for reparations [for the time] he was in the prison, losing his advantages, impacting his reputation, and his health. I am just waiting for when he get out of the prison to see if he wants to do it. It is his discretion. If he wants, we will prepare the case for him," he said.

The men were each sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2004 murder of trade union leader Chea Vichea, a vocal government critic who was gunned down in broad daylight at a newsstand in Phnom Penh.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam were arrested days later and quickly convicted in a trial that human rights activists strongly criticized as a sham to cover up the identity of the real killer.

A coalition of labor and human rights groups have released a statement hailing the release of the two men. But they also called for a fresh investigation into the murder.

Human rights activist Chan Soveth says the mystery of who committed the murder needs to be solved.

"The release is meaning as a good issue. We see the first step of reform by the new government led by the Cambodian People's Party, but we are still skeptical about the perpetrators that gunned down Chea Vichea. Who are they?"

No other suspects have been arrested for the killing of Chea Vichea, who founded a garment worker union along with opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

His death came amid a government crackdown on Cambodia's labor movement.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.