Acid Attack Family Speaks of Fear and Intimidation

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision on Monday to drop charges against Chea Ratha, a former senior military police official accused of orchestrating a savage acid attack against her lover’s aunt, marks the third time the court has cleared her of an acid crime, a senior Interior Ministry official revealed yesterday.

Interior Ministry Penal Police chief Mok Chito said by telephone that Ms Ratha, 43, had been investigated for her involvement in two other acid attacks, but the municipal court had cleared her in each instance due to a lack of evidence.

“She was [suspected of being] involved in three cases of acid attacks,” Mr Chito said. “We investigated and the [court said the] evidence was not enough.”

“This is not easy. This work is up to the court,” Mr Chito added.

The municipal court on Monday acquitted Ms Ratha, a former Military Police Brigadier General, and six men of their alleged involvement in the May 8, 2008 acid attack that seriously injured Ya Soknim, 39, the aunt of Ms Ratha’s female lover, television celebrity and model In Solyda. A badly disfigured Ms Soknim and her niece held a news conference yesterday at the Phnom Penh office of local rights group Licadho, detailing Ms Solyda’s two-year relationship with Ms Ratha, the abuse that was involved and the threats that came after she broke with the military police chief, and the acid attack shortly after.

Ms Solyda said that she was forced to stay with Ms Ratha, claiming that the military police official imprisoned her, beat her and held her at gunpoint on several occasions.

“She said she loved me, but I refused…. I don’t like women,” a tearful Ms Solyda said while sitting between her mother and Ms Soknim.

Ms Solyda said she tried to escape many times from Ms Ratha’s clutches, but each time the military police official would threaten her and her family with violence.

“She said that if I stayed away from her life, she would kill me and my whole family,” Ms Solyda told the news conference. Ms Solyda said she wasn’t the only woman to spark Ms Ratha’s interest or wrath. She then accused the military police official of ordering the January 2006 acid attack on CTN commentator Tith Polen, 36, after he had married a woman that Ms Ratha considered to be her “wife.” Mr Polen sustained serious burns on his forehead, neck, chest, elbows and knees after a man riding pillion on a motorcycle threw acid on him. Ms Solyda claimed that she was with Ms Ratha when she allegedly ordered Meas Mao, one of the seven people acquitted by the municipal court on Monday of attacking her aunt, to attack Mr Polen.

“Chea Ratha was angry and ordered Meas Mao, who is skilled in mixing up and throwing acid, to do it- in front of me to intimidate me,” she said.

Ms Solyda said that during her relationship with the military police official, she learned that Ms Ratha was also allegedly responsible for an acid attack against a woman she identified as Chea Maly.

“I know everything because I was with her,” Ms Solyda claimed, adding that when she heard the news that her aunt had been attacked with acid, she knew who was behind it.

In what was to be the most chilling part of yesterday’s news conference, recorded conversations were presented, allegedly of Ms Ratha talking to Ms Solyda’s family members after she left the military police official for good in April 2008.

In one conversation the military police official inquired into Ms Solyda’s whereabouts, saying that hiding her lover would “turn into a grudge between the families, bloodletting each other.”

In another conversation, the same person is heard telling Ms Solyda’s mother that “in a moment, it would become a sea of blood.”

Ms Ratha could not be reached for comment, but one of her lawyers, Keo Ya, said that his client was innocent in all three acid attacks.

Judge Din Sivuthy, one of the judges presiding over Monday’s case against Ms Ratha, said he was too busy to comment on the other cases.

Licadho and rights group the Cambodian Center for Human Rights issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the municipal court’s decision to acquit Ms Ratha and her alleged accomplices and calling on the Supreme Council of Magistracy to investigate the handling of the case.

“This is yet another blatant display of Cambodia’s rampant impunity and culture of brutal violence,” Licadho Director Pilorge Naly is quoted in the statement. “Cambodia’s judicial system yet again allowed the strong – those with power and government connections – to victimize the weak,” she said.

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