Family of murdered government critic Kem Ley flee Cambodia

August 31, 2016 1:50 AM EDT

Wife of Kem Ley, an anti-government figure and the head of a grassroots advocacy group, "Khmer for Khmer", shot dead on July 10, reacts as she attends a funeral procession to carry his body to his hometown, in Phnom Penh , Cambodia July 24, 2016. REUTERS/

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The family of murdered Cambodian government critic Kem Ley have fled abroad fearing for their safety, friends of the family said on Wednesday.

Kem Ley, 46, was gunned down in broad daylight at a shop in the capital Phnom Penh on July 10. Tens of thousands turned out for his funeral last month including his heavily pregnant wife Bou Rachana.

His death comes amid rising political tensions between veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen and an opposition hoping to challenge his grip on power at local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.

Bou Rachana, who is seven months pregnant, and her four sons left Cambodia on Sunday in a car, said Buntenh, a Buddhist monk and member of Kem Ley's funeral committee.

"She visited Angkor Wat in Siem Reap for the last time before leaving," Buntenh told Reuters, declining to say which country the family fled to.

Buntenh said supporters of Kem Ley had persuaded Bou Rachana to leave Cambodia so she could deliver her baby in a foreign country and the family will later decide whether to seek political asylum.

Tim Malay, head of local group Cambodia Youth Network, said the family had arrived safely at their destination. "Rachana was worried about her safety and the safety of her family," he said.

Rachana could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

A 38-year-old-man has been charged with Kem Ley's murder, claiming he killed him over an outstanding debt.

Shortly before he was murdered, Kem Ley gave a radio interview discussing a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness documenting how Hun Sen and his family have amassed millions. The Hun family has dismissed the report.

Many of Kem Ley's supporters say the murder was political and are skeptical of the official reason given for the killing.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Michael Perry)

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