After One Year, No Arrests in Shooting Of Piseth Pilika
The bullet lodged near Saren Sereiman’s spine forces the 8-year-old girl to think each day of the nightmare that took place in broad daylight a year ago near Phnom Penh’s O’Russei Market.
She was shopping for children’s bicycles with her mother and her aunt, Piseth Pilika, when two gunmen opened fire on them at close range. It was July 6, 1999.
Saren Sereiman clutched her aunt’s ankles as they both lay bleeding on the ground. After the gunmen unleashed a second barrage of bullets, they sped away on motorbikes.
Seven days later, Piseth Pilika, the famous 34-year-old actress who starred in many of King Norodom Sihanouk’s films, died in Calmette Hospital.
No one has ever been arrested.
Saren Sereiman now lives near Paris with the rest of the actress’ family. Ouk Divina, the girl’s mother and Piseth Pilika’s sister, said her daughter can function on her own. But doctors said the bullet cannot be removed from Saren Sereiman’s body until she is an adult.
“She is still young and weak,” Ouk Divina said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Her body is always hot.”
Last week, family members released a statement saying they deplored the fact that no progress has been made in the investigation of Piseth Pilika’s death.
“As political refugees in France, we beg the competent authorities and all justice-loving people around the world to help find justice for Piseth Pilika and put an end to impunity in Cambodia, which can presently be described as the kingdom of crime,” the statement said.
Piseth Pilika was allegedly the mistress of Prime Minister Hun Sen. His wife, Bun Rany, has been accused by the French magazine L’Express of ordering her killing, a charge Bun Rany has vehemently denied.
In turn, the government has accused opposition leader Sam Rainsy of orchestrating the magazine’s assertions and continuing to push what it calls false allegations. Though Hun Sen threatened to sue the magazine, no court action has been taken yet.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the government is still looking into the case. However, he acknowledged that no suspects have been identified. “This case has not been closed and the investigation is in progress,” he said.
Teng Savong, second deputy director-general of the national police who is in charge of the case, declined to comment on it, saying he was too busy to talk.
Ouk Divina said government officials are just paying lip service when they say they are investigating the case. She said the last time authorities investigating the case contacted the family was a week after the killing.
“They don’t talk to us because they seem to know who the murderers are,” she said. “Their word cheats the Cambodian people who loved my sister.”
About 10,000 mourners attended Piseth Pilika’s funeral, making it one of the largest such ceremonies in the country’s recent history.
But after a year has gone by without authorities having even one suspect in custody, the case is starting to resemble others that remain unsolved, such as the 1997 grenade attack that left at least 16 people dead.
“It is interesting to see which kind of crimes make the police efficient and which kind of cases make the police kind of dumb,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
She noted how quickly police made arrests in the murder of the president of the Taiwanese Business Association, while no suspects have been nabbed in the grenade attack or the acid attack in which the wife of Council of Ministers official Svay Sitha has been named as a suspect.
Ouk Divina said her sister’s killers will be caught only when true democracy exists in Cambodia. “Cambodia has no democracy,” she said, echoing sentiments frequently voiced by Sam Rainsy. “The powerful intimidate and oppress the underlings.”
Ouk Divina says she and her family miss Cambodia but they will not return until the culprits are in custody. The family is getting by with help from the Cambodian community in Paris. Ouk Divina’s husband has a blue-collar job at a telephone company, which helps support four of Piseth Pilika’s cousins, two nieces and a nephew.
“I will come back to Cambodia when the murderers and those who ordered the killing are arrested and sent to an independent court,” Ouk Divina said.
She said the family plans to have a ceremony for the anniversary of Piseth Pilika’s death on Saturday.