Two women were fighting for their lives last night after an ax-wielding assailant attacked them and five other family members at their home in Sihanoukville’s Muoy commune in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to police.
Commune police chief Prak Sophea said the attack took place at around 1:30 a.m. near the commune’s Kbal Chhay waterfall, as the seven victims—a 31-year-old woman, her 67-year-old mother, and her five children aged between 1 and 13 years old—slept in two separate beds.
“At about 1:30 a.m. today, the attacker walked inside the house, opened the family’s mosquito nets and hacked the seven with an ax when they were sleeping,” Mr. Sophea said, adding that police believed the assailant spent 15 minutes attacking the victims before fleeing.
“Fifteen minutes after the attack happened, the 10-year-old went to relatives in the same area and they alerted the commune police,” he said.
Mr. Sophea added that an initial investigation conducted by police had ruled out robbery as a motive for the attack and that an interview with the 10-year-old victim led police to believe the attack was carried out by a lone male assailant.
“We didn’t see that anything valuable was lost or that the suspect robbed the family…so we have concluded it was a revenge attack,” Mr. Sophea said, speculating that land disputes in the area could have played a role.
“We haven’t found any more evidence yet because we are waiting to question the husband who was fishing at sea when the attack happened.”
Contacted on Tuesday evening, Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin said he could provide few details on the case as the investigation was in progress.
“Now we conclude it’s revenge and we have some clues already from the investigation,” Major General Narin said, declining to elaborate on what those “clues” entailed.
Due to the severity of their injuries, three of the victims—the 31-year-old woman, her 67-year-old mother and 5-year-old son—were transferred by ambulance to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh.
“The grandmother and the mother are in critical condition with life-threatening injuries and the son is critical but stable,” said James McCabe, director of operations for the Child Protection Unit, a policing unit supported by the Cambodian Children’s Fund, which is assisting the investigation.
“A lot of [the assailant’s] main attack was toward the mother and grandmother but all the children have received injuries,” he said.
“The 4-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister and the 14-year-old sister are all still at the Kompong Som referral hospital in a stable condition,” he said, adding that all three had been able to speak to police and that the 1-year-old victim had been released into the custody of an aunt.
Asked about possible motives in the case and if any suspects had been identified, Mr. McCabe would only say the investigation was in progress.
“It’s still early in what is going to be a lengthy investigation,” he said. “At this stage, we are unable to establish if anything has been stolen.”
At the Khmer-Soviet hospital on Tuesday afternoon, a visibly distraught Kong Phearum—the husband, son-in-law and father of the victims, who was at sea at the time of the early morning attack—said that he was at a loss as to why his family had been targeted, but added he had been involved in a “minor problem” regarding land ownership.
“I built my house on state land but that state land was sold to somebody else and was then continuously sold to others,” he said. “I have had a minor problem with the person who now claims to own the land but we never talk face to face.”
Mr. Phearum added that he heard that the purported landowner—who he said was a Chinese national—was now in jail, but had planned to file a complaint against him.
Mr. Phearum identified his wife as Oum Phana, and his mother-in-law as Touch Som Oun. While he believed a golden necklace had been taken during the attack, he said the brutality of the assault indicated it was not a simple burglary.
“I think that this is not a kind of robbery,” he said. “If they only wanted to rob the 3 grams of the gold from my wife, they might not have also attempted to kill my old mother-in-law and my youngest daughter, who is only 2 years old.”
(Additional reporting by Buth Kimsay and Anthony Jensen)