July 13, 2016

Mother and Wife in Shock

Ek Tatt, the mother of Eurth Ang, at  her house in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district. KT/ Mai Vireak

Khmer Times/May Titthara Wednesday, 13 July 2016

SIEM REAP – With tears flowing down the side of her face, Ek Tatt, the mother of the man who killed government critic Kem Ley, recalled son’s early years when Khmer Times spoke to her yesterday.

“My son has known how to hold and fire a gun since he was 10-years-old. He even dragged a gun along the ground with him when he was just walking. But he has never been cruel to anyone,” the 64-year-old from Siem Reap province said.

As police investigators and court officials continued to interrogate Eurth Ang on the brutal Sunday morning shooting of Mr. Ley at a gas station coffee shop in Phnom Penh, family members and neighbors in Siem Reap grappled with the reality that the man they knew and the man caught by police after the shooting were the same person.

Heum Hort, whose husband is in custody over the shooting of Kem Ley, sits in a hammock at her house in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district. KT/ Mai Vireak
Sitting next to the wooden pillars holding up the zinc roof of her home in Tonle Sor village in Norkor Pheas commune, Angkor Chum district, Ms. Tatt said she was in disbelief when someone came to her home with pictures of her first-born son with blood on his shirt and handcuffs shackling his wrists.

“I still wonder why he did it, because he called me two days before the incident and said he just found a job to do. I did not know what the job was,” she said.

Ms. Tatt said he was the eldest of her 10 children, but was unable to go to school past grade three because their family was poor. He worked in a number of jobs as a child and joined the army at age 10, eventually leaving his position in 1998.

He was ordained as a monk and spent two years living in a pagoda before moving to Thailand to work.  After his return to Siem Reap, he married and had a daughter. But the marriage was fraught with issues and soon ended in divorce.

Mr. Ang eventually went back to the monkhood, spending two years there until he was kicked out for frequently meeting his current wife in secret.

“I might die before my son because I pity him. I saw him bleeding in handcuffs and I don’t know how badly they are treating him,” Ms. Tatt said. “I still wonder why he committed the crime. He did not have a father around as a child, so why would he want to shoot someone else’s father to death?

“What about Mr. Ley’s wife? How will she feed their children? I could not sleep for two days after the shooting. My eyes are still open this morning because I cannot stop thinking about it.”

Ms. Tatt said she provided each of her children with a 10 x 50 meter plot of farmland in the hope it would alleviate their poverty, but Mr. Ang sold it when he married his first wife.

“I spoke to him about five months ago and he complained about asking for money back from someone in Phnom Penh and not getting it. I told him ‘if you can’t get the money back, just forget it’, but I did not know whether he lent the money to a man named Kem Ley. They did not know each other before,” she said.

Um Eoerng shuffled his feet toward the entrance to his brick house as he brought out a shirt with the “Environmental Protection Organization” title and insignia stitched into it. Mr. Eoerng, who said he had known Mr. Ang since he was a child and worked with him at the Environmental Protection Organization, told Khmer Times the gunman worked at the organization for six months.

Due to his time in the army, Mr. Ang was good with a gun, Mr. Eoerng said. But when he quit the force and became a monk, Mr. Eoerng thought he had turned over a new leaf.

Once he left the monkhood, Mr. Eoerng helped Mr. Ang get contract work with the organization.

“I wondered why I did not see him for two weeks. I never saw him come exchange the ID cards and his phone was unreachable.

On July 5 someone called me and told me he was in Phnom Penh and had found a job as a soldier, but the call died out before I could ask more questions,” he said. “I was shocked to see he was the assassin. It is unbelievable and I’m still extremely shocked.”

He glanced away for a second before remembering his joy at hearing Mr. Ang had found a steady job and income to support his family. But that happiness soon turned to shock when pictures of Mr. Ang started circulating on the Internet after the shooting.

“He disappeared for only a few days and became an assassin. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

During their time working together at the Environmental Protection Organization, Mr. Eoerng said they worked to protect the local forest and often traveled to Battambang to meet the organization’s president, Tep Pich.

Ket Kann, a 39-year-old neighbor of Ms. Tatt, said Mr. Ang rarely stayed in the village and often disappeared for long periods of time. He said Mr. Ang was thrown out of the monkhood for having a relationship with his now-wife and was not a rich man.

Soeum Suon, the chief monk of Prasat Thnong pagoda where Mr. Ang was ordained, sang a much harsher tune than others. Mr. Ang was ordained in 2012 and after only one year, Chief Monk Suon dismissed him for frequently leaving the pagoda without permission.

“Ang had a cruel attitude, did not listen to anyone, and fought. When I tried to educate him, he insulted me and threatened to shoot me. He did not learn virtues and only talked about being a soldier,” the chief monk said.

The deputy chief monk at the pagoda who also ordained Mr. Ang himself, Saum Samorn, echoed those sentiments, saying Mr. Ang was always surrounded by scandals and was removed from the pagoda. He said Mr. Ang moved to Kom Bou pagoda in Varin district and eventually ended up staying at the Peurng Tanan cottage.

“He threatened to shoot anyone who made trouble with him since he was a monk. But his mother was unable to say anything bad about him because she wants all her children to be good,” monk Samorn said.

Ms. Tatt refuted both monks’ statements, claiming they only removed Mr. Ang from the monkhood when they realized he was more popular than they were.

“While in Krolanh pagoda, the chief monk saw my son do a lot of good deeds, and he was afraid of losing popularity, so he dismissed my son from the pagoda and sent him to another pagoda. He also accused him of having a relationship with a girl,” she said.

“It is a fact that they wanted to keep the chief monk’s position from my child. My son tried to earn money to help his elders and orphaned children, so they were jealous.”

About five kilometers from his mother’s house, Mr. Ang’s wife, Heum Hort, lives in Norkor Pheas 2. The village pork seller described, in painfully vivid detail, the moment when she realized it was her husband who had shot and killed Mr. Ley.

Local residents came running to her house, saying Mr. Ang had killed someone in Phnom Penh, she told Khmer Times. She initially ignored the rumor and continued to eat her lunch. A few minutes later, one of her cousins opened up Facebook and showed her photos of Mr. Ang being arrested by police.

“Because I trusted him like a priest, I did not dare to ask him about his personal work. Even when he left for Phnom Penh, I did not ask him how long he was going for or what he was doing,” she said. “He told me he was going to Phnom Penh to work for his god brother for a period of time.

“I will not dare to go to Phnom Penh. I have never been and I am afraid to go there. For my husband, let the authorities take action against him if he truly did it.”

The two had only been married for two months, and Ms. Hort admitted that Mr. Ang was not making any money because he was working voluntarily for an NGO. Instead, he asked her for gas money for his trip to Phnom Penh.

“We do not have money to lend to others. We did not even earn enough to survive a day,” she said.

Mr. Ley’s wife, Bou Rachna, said yesterday she was considering moving to Australia after meeting with officials at the Australian Embassy.

Her husband’s body is at Wat Chas in Chroy Changva district and will be cremated on July 18 at 5pm.

Ly Sophana, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and a prosecutor in the case, said Mr. Ang was questioned without a lawyer yesterday, and a number of clues have helped investigators piece together what happened. They plan to conclude their inquiry today.

“In the investigation process, everything must be confidential. The court is now considering relevant evidence provided by the police, including the information given from the witnesses,” Mr. Sophana said.

Ms. Tatt said: “I always told him, since he was small, to be a good person.”

Additional reporting by Taing Vida

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