Two separate attacks by angry mobs left three ethnic Vietnamese dead on Friday, bringing to at least four the number of racial killings in the capital in 24 hours.
An angry mob attacked and killed an ethnic Vietnamese man and his wife Friday morning near the French Embassy after accusing them of poisoning water, according to police. In a second attack later in the day, a Vietnamese woman was beaten and later died in the hospital.
The assaults came as increasingly wild rumors—sparked by a rash of deaths from tainted rice wine—circulated throughout the city that water and food have been poisoned by ethnic-Vietnamese residents.
The attacks were strongly condemned Friday by the Vietnam Embassy and the UN human rights office. “It is particularly regrettable that this food poisoning issue has begun to acquire racial and political overtones,” the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement. “That Vietnamese members of the community have been murdered or beaten by mobs on suspicion they are behind this is a tragedy.”
Local authorities appealed for calm. “We have confirmed there is no poison, as the rumors have indicated. This action is the tactic of opportunists trying to create social upheaval,” Phnom Penh Deputy Governor He Kan said in a statement.
According to Don Penh district police, 35-year-old Vinh Chan Houy and his wife, Veing Thimy, 33, were attacked by a mob of cyclo drivers and moto-taxi drivers as they walked north from Phsar Chas at about 8:30 am. A 25-year-old unidentified woman was also beaten by the crowd.
Two men who took part in the beating claimed the three victims had brown-colored medicine in their hands and had used it to poison food and water in the market.
About 30 people, including teen-agers, wielding sticks and rocks beat the two and left them for dead near the French Embassy, according to the men.
Separately, a 25-year-old woman was attacked elsewhere in the capital and taken to Calmette Hospital. She died Friday afternoon, according to police. Hospital representatives could not be reached to confirm the death, and no other details were available.
The bodies of Vinh Chan Houy and Veign Thimy, who have four children, were taken to Wat Ounalom on Friday, police said. About 20 people gathered later at the wat, jeering and throwing stones at police who had covered the bodies with cloths. “Cambodian police always take care of Vietnamese, but many Cambodians die and they are never interested,” said one bystander.
On Thursday, a man believed to be Vietnamese was beaten to death outside a city drink shop. His companion was seriously injured and taken to Calmette.
According to municipal police and Interior Ministry officials, no arrests have been made in the assaults. But police said there was no sign of the poison that witnesses claimed to have seen.
“They were accused of using drugs to poison jugs of water sold in the markets but I don’t think so,” Phnom Penh penal police chief Khuon Sophon told Deutchse Presse-Agentur. “We have no evidence to accuse anybody.”
Sok Phal, chief of the information department for the Ministry of Interior, insisted five Vietnamese had been killed Thursday and Friday, according to Agence France-Presse. He cited police reports from across the capital.
The Vietnamese Embassy issued a statement Friday expressing outrage over the deaths, and asking authorities to protect Vietnamese and other foreign nationals. The UN also is investigating reports of another eight cases of people being attacked because of the poisoning scare.
Sam Rainsy called the assaults “heartless,” and urged people not to take part in any future attacks.
Meanwhile, health officials said Friday that the poisoned wine disaster has spread to Koh Kong province. World Health Organization representative Georg Petersen said Friday that more than 20 people have died in Koh Kong from the tainted wine.
A team of health officials, including two Calmette doctors, had visited Sre Ampil district Wednesday and found the same symptoms as those who died from methanol poisoning in Phnom Penh, he said.
The wine originally came from Phnom Penh, he said. At least 60 have died from the health disaster, and another 400 have been treated in the hospital.
The municipality has ordered unlicensed wine shops to be closed and manufacturers to be shut down. The Ministry of Interior said some wine has been confiscated but no arrests made.
Petersen said officials haven’t determined when methanol was added, but he said the intention may not have been to kill. “In other countries sellers add methanol thinking it is ethanol,” he said. “They accidentally mix methanol into drinks because it costs a tenth of ethanol and they don’t know the difference.”
Opposition politicians were accused of fanning the racial flames during the election campaign, when prominent leaders Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh both repeatedly used vehement anti-Vietnamese rhetoric.
On Sunday, protesters attacked the Vietnam Cambodia Liberation monument, smashing it with hammers and setting it on fire before opposition politicians were able to calm them.
(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha)