A week after the battered body of a 25-year-old Frenchwoman was found naked on a riverbank in Kampot City, police officials still have scant information regarding the circumstances surrounding her murder.
Mirroring the lack of clues in the killing of Ophelie Begnis in tourist-friendly Kampot, where backpackers go to relax, explore and generally “chill out,” is the apparent lack of awareness of the crime among tourists currently visiting the country.
Other than having her handbag snatched in Sihanoukville last week, Katie Cruz, a 19-year-old Canadian who has been traveling with three other girls for the past three months, said nothing bad had happened during her trip and knew little about the murder in Kampot province.
“Who found the body?” asked Ms. Cruz, who had a barrage of related questions regarding the Ophelie Begnis murder.
“It definitely gives me a bit of a wake-up call because we’ve been traveling for three months and nothing really bad has happened to us,” Ms. Cruz said, excepting the bag snatch from that list.
“I feel safer with my friends but there is definitely one of our friends who always likes to go off on her own.”
Swedish tourist Rebecca Elmblad Wingquist, also 19, was surprised to hear about the murder and said she and her friends would now refrain from walking alone while in Cambodia.
“I don’t want to hear about this, I don’t want to know about this,” Ms. Wingquist said on the backpacker-friendly Street 172 in Phnom Penh.
“We know these things happen all the time but we try not to think about it. I just won’t tell my mom about it,” she added.
Ophelie Begnis was last seen leaving the Les Manguiers guesthouse, where she was staying in Kampot province’s Toek Chhou district, on February 9 at about 4 p.m. on a bicycle. Her naked body was found the next day washed up on the bank of Kampot River in Kampot City, about 1 km from the guesthouse. Lacerations were present on her head and arms. Police have not ruled out the possibility that she was raped before being killed.
“She may have been raped,” said In Chiva, deputy provincial police chief.
Neither the bicycle the victim was riding nor her clothes and other belongings have been found, Mr. Chiva said, declining to comment further on the investigation.
“Right now, we are researching through local residents’ homes in relation to the murder of the Frenchwoman and we still have not found the scene of the crime yet.”
Lieutenant General Sok Phal, deputy commissioner of the National Police, said DNA samples from the victim have been sent overseas for analysis, as Cambodia did not have such technology. The tests will hopefully help investigators determine how the young tourist died and the nature of the attack.
“As you know, DNA [testing] is not possible in Cambodia, so we sent the results to other countries to help us,” Lt. Gen. Phal said, declining to name the country.
“The General Commissariat [of the National Police] has just followed up on this case for two or three days, so help us by keeping silent and keeping calm and we will follow the case,” he said.
Nicolas Baudouin, the French Embassy’s first secretary, declined to comment, saying only that the embassy was waiting for the preliminary results from Cambodian police.
The murder of Ophelie Begnis is the most serious among several attacks against female tourists in recent years.
A 39-year-old British tourist was raped in November 2008 in Battambang province by a monk who had offered to act as a tour guide when visiting the tourist site of Phnom Sampov. Two years earlier, in November 2006, an Australian woman reported being gang raped at gunpoint by five Cambodian youths in Phnom Penh.
Also in 2006, an 18-year-old Frenchwoman was first robbed and then stripped of her clothing while riding a bicycle between Kbal Spean village and Banteay Srei temple in Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park. Three other men then attacked her, hitting her in the head with a stone before one of them raped her. The teenager, left on the roadside, eventually managed to get a tuk-tuk driver to stop and bring her back to her guesthouse.
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, said the killing in Kampot was worrying for the tourism sector, as an increasing number of tourists visit the country each year.
“Everyone has been very concerned because the relevant sector must consider what will be affected for the future,” Mr. Vandy said. “In Kampot and Kep, we don’t often hear of these things happening.”
“Signboards must be hung at important places and we should have the authorities concerned to explain clearly to the tourists about the risks of traveling alone,” he added.
Not everyone, however, appears to favor such vigilance.
Sam Sophea, owner of Les Manguiers guesthouse, where Ophelie Begnis had been staying, said that she had yet to put up any signs warning guests of the dangers of wandering off alone in Kampot.
“We didn’t put up a sign [for guests] that says ‘Don’t wander alone’ because it is their right and freedom to move around,” Ms. Sophea said. She added that she deeply regretted the death of the young Frenchwoman.