Family Says Theft Led to Son’s Tragic Suicide

chry village, Banlung district, Ratanakkiri province – On the morning of Nov 29, farmer Pek Kham was preparing invitations for the wedding of his 18-year-old son Kham Bunsoeun. The young man’s fiancee was about to go try on wedding clothes at a tailor’s shop in Banlung town.

However, that same morning, a villager discovered the body of Kham Bunsoeun, a member of the Kreung ethnic minority, lying on a patch of blood-soaked dirt on the edges of the tranquil Yeak Lom lake with a single AK-47 shot to his chest.

On his body was a letter written to his fiancee, Chem Srey Mom.

“I very much regret that I cannot marry you,” the last sentences of the suicide note reads. “I apologize.”

Provincial police say the letter is sufficient evidence to classify Kham Bunsoeun’s death as a suicide and rule out foul play.

His family counters that the distraught teenager was moved to take his own life after his personal property was seized and extortion by forestry officials left him penniless and desperate in the days before his wedding.

Kham Bunsoeun’s family has filed a complaint with Ratanakkiri Provincial Court against the for­estry officials they claim took his money. An autopsy indicated that Kham Bunsoeun died in­stantly at about 6:30 pm Nov 28 from a single rifle wound that severed a main artery to his heart, said provincial penal police Deputy Chief Sam Vannak.

His body was found slumped against a mango tree, his hands wrapped around the gun, Sam Vannak said. The bullet was lodged in the tree trunk.

“He absolutely killed himself,” Sam Vannak said. “He was disappointed by forestry officials.”

According to relatives and po­lice, on Nov 10, Kham Bun­soeun was driving a motorbike home from the family’s farm in Cha’ung commune, a 10-year-old chainsaw strapped to the backseat.

Behind him, his father Pek Kham, 51, herded cows homeward.

Kham Bunsoeun was stopped around 6:30 pm by an undetermined number of forestry officials who accused him of illegal logging. Kham Bunsoeun vehemently denied the charge, saying the chainsaw was used to cut firewood for his forthcoming wedding on Dec 15.

His denial infuriated the officials. They pointed a gun at his head and forced him to sit before a video camera as proof of their “crackdown” on illegal loggers, Chem Srey Mom recalled her fiance as saying.

Though allowing Kham Bun­soeun to go free, they confiscated the chainsaw, ignoring his pleas that he first be allowed to remove the $200 hidden in the machine’s casing—money he had earned from selling two cows to buy new clothes for his wedding, Chem Srey Mom said.

“Their acts, I count as robbery,” she said at her home in Yeak Lom’s Phoum Thmei village last week. “He told me that he was shamed, just before our wedding day.”

Pek Kham went to the O’Chum district forestry office early the next morning to retrieve the money and chainsaw.

But the officers said they had not seen the money and threatened to keep the chainsaw and charge Kham Bunsoeun with illegal logging if Pek Kham did not pay a $200 bribe, he al­leged last week.

Negotiations whittled the fee down to $75, but Pek Kham had only about $37.50 and was forced to return home empty-handed.                         Kham Bunsoeun shot himself about two weeks later.

The day after his son’s death, Pek Kham filed a complaint with Ratanakkiri Provincial Court charging the forestry officials with extortion.

“It was a wrong practice of forestry officials,” Chief Pro­secutor Mey Sokhan said last week.

“If the evidence is sufficient, they will be charged with kidnapping,” a charge that also includes extortion, he said.

It was not clear how many officers could face prosecution, he said, adding that kidnapping charges carry a five- to 10-year prison sentence.

You Kanvimean, deputy director of the provincial forestry de­partment, said an investigation into the incident is under way.

“I will investigate. It would be a remorseful thing if it was true,” he said. He added that the officers have not filed a report on the confiscation.

At their O’Chum district office, three of the forestry officials allegedly involved in the incident said they did confiscate the chainsaw but denied finding money inside.

“I do not know where the report has gone to,” office chief Sun Bo said. “I do not know about any negotiation at all.” He and the others declined to comment further.

Kham Bunsoeun’s relatives and neighbors said he was a victim of official harassment of local people carried out under the guise of law enforcement.

“Since the forestry officials arrived here, I’ve never seen them crack down on illegal logging,” said Cha’ung villager Soeun Maly, 46, who witnessed the confiscation. “They come here to do business in logging.”

Chem Srey Mom, who considers herself a widow, agreed.

“Who is responsible for logging in the Dragon’s Tail? My fiance?” she asked rhetorically, referring to the remote forest area where the borders of Cam­bodia, Vietnam and Laos intersect and where illegal logging is allegedly rampant.

“It is not fair,” she said.



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