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Premier’s Brother-in-Law Gunned Down

November 19, 1996

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ The brother-in-law of Cambodia’s most powerful politician was shot and killed today as he left a restaurant, setting off fears of an impending security crackdown in the politically shaky capital.

Col. Kov Samoth, an Interior Ministry official and brother-in-law of Second Premier Hun Sen, was shot four times by a man who escaped with another man on a motorcycle, witnesses said.

In a radio address, Hun Sen blamed the killing on political rivals who he said wanted to strengthen their power by derailing the defection of Khmer Rouge guerrillas, which has opened up prospects for peace after a quarter-century of war and turmoil

``Right now, I have no reaction, but if the defectors meet danger, I will react. There could be armed reaction,″ Hun Sen said. ``It will be unfortunate for the fate of the country.″

Hun Sen audibly wept after the address, though he scarcely mentioned his brother-in-law while spinning an elaborate mesh of threats and conspiracy theories.

``I cannot say that it is a political murder, but it is a real threat,″ Hun Sen said. ``I am sincere in my desire for peace, but if the need arises, I can order fighting within several hours or days.″

Though Hun Sen never stated whom he would order the security forces to fight, it was clear that royalists loyal to his archrival and co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, would be as much a target as Khmer Rouge hard-liners.

With elections set for 1998, both men have jockeyed for political advantage as peacemakers since the Khmer Rouge split in August and hundreds of guerrillas stopped fighting.

``This is a politically motivated attack to weaken the spirit of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen,″ Om Yen Tieng, an adviser to the premier, told reporters.

Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy, the country’s most outspoken opposition leader, condemned the shooting and told reporters they hoped the killer was found.

Though political violence is commonplace in Cambodia, today’s killing was the first of such a highly placed figure since the United Nations sponsored elections in 1993 aimed at ending decades of civil war.

During the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule, at least 2 million Cambodians died in the government’s effort to create a Marxist utopian state.

Hun Sen, leader of the formerly communist Cambodian People’s Party, rules in an uneasy coalition with Ranariddh. Hun Sen is considered the country’s most powerful man, retaining control of most of the security apparatus put in place when he headed a Vietnam-installed government in the 1980s.

Hun Sen complained this year of three separate plots against his life. Critics accused him of paranoia and making the claims to justify violence and intimidation against his opponents.

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