Fear Resumes After Rape-Murders Acquittals in Pursat

Family members and officials said yesterday they feared for their safety after Pursat Provincial Court on Tuesday cited a lack of evidence in acquitting four men charged with last year’s gruesome rape and murder of two young girls in Pursat province.

With Sem Douch, 40, and Ham Sophea, 29, acquitted on Tuesday, as well as two other men who were tried in absentia, police said yesterday there were no other suspects in sight despite an investigation that has gone on for nearly two years.

The severely beaten bodies of cousins Nai Vinn, 11, and Phal Sophoeun, 14, were found strung from a tree in Krakor district’s Svay Sar commune after the girls went missing in January 2009.

The community lived in fear during the aftermath of the brutal crime, but was reassured when Mr Douch and Mr Sophea were arrested in March 2009, commune police chief Khloem Yorn said.

“Even I, as a policeman, feel scared and worry for my security if the suspects are released,” Mr Yorn said. “I am afraid that they will come to revenge against me because I am the person who arrested them.”

An Sopheak, a victim’s sister, said she was also nervous. “I do worry for my security,” Ms Sopheak said.

Sin Sopheak, chief of the provincial police bureau for major crimes, said police reports sent to court included the statement by Mr Sophea and other witness testimonies. He said there were no new leads or suspects in the investigation other than the four acquitted men.

However, prosecutor Ouk Chansereivuth said he had not seen the police report with Mr Sophea’s statement, even though tomorrow he is to decide if there was sufficient evidence for an appeal. “If we had [seen the statement] then the suspects would not have been acquitted,” Mr Chansereivuth said.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that the problem was that the police did not have proper evidence collected from the crime scene and could only refer to witnesses who saw suspects carrying the bodies.

“It was 48 hours before the bodies were discovered [by police] because it was in the jungle far from the village,” Mr Chantharith said, noting that fingerprints were not taken.

The Pursat police chief intended to cooperate with the prosecutor to find more evidence and witnesses for an appeal, he said.


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