Cambodia releases two jailed for union leader murder

Born Samnang (left) and Sok Sam Oeun (right), are escorted by a prison guard to the supreme court in Phnom Penh on 25 September 2013 Rights groups say the judge has forbidden Born Samnang (left) and Sok Sam Oeun from seeking financial reparations for their time spent in jail

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Cambodia's Supreme Court has acquitted two men jailed nine years ago for the murder of prominent opposition activist Chea Vichea.

The move was welcomed by human rights groups, who have described the men as scapegoats who were wrongly convicted.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2004.

Chea Vichea, a trade union leader and vocal government critic, was shot dead in the streets of Phnom Penh.

The Supreme Court ordered Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun's release on Wednesday, citing insufficient evidence, reports said.

"I am happy that the Supreme Court has rendered justice for me," Sok Sam Oeun told reporters.

In a joint statement, several Cambodian human rights organisations welcomed the "long overdue" acquittal.

The two men had been "framed as scapegoats" after "an investigation rife with improprieties", they said.

"We are very happy with today's result, but this should not be the end. It should be the opportunity to properly look into one of the most tragic deaths in Cambodia's recent history," said Moeun Tola from the Community Legal Education Centre.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were released on bail in 2008, but forced to return to prison after a court upheld their jail term in December.

Activists have said that scapegoats are often found in Cambodia to ensure that those instigating attacks against trade unionists go unpunished.

Chea Vichea's killing in 2004 caused an international outcry.

The leader of a trade union that represented many of Cambodia's garment workers, he died at a time when the government was violently cracking down both on labour activists and the opposition, the BBC's Jonah Fisher reports from neighbouring Thailand.

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