For Couple Accused of Sorcery, Still Not Safe to Return Home

An ethnic Jarai couple accused of sorcery and forced out of their village in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district have failed to have their expulsion overturned by local officials, with former neighbors threatening to kill the pair if they return.

Local authorities have held three meetings with villagers since Romas Vem, an 80-year-old traditional healer, and his wife, Sev Soy, 50, were accused last week of practicing black magic, but have been unable to negotiate the couple’s return home, district police chief Ma Vichet said.

“We held three meetings at the village to compromise with some 100 local villagers to accept them and let them live in the village,” Mr. Vichet said. “But, the minority villagers threatened to kill the couple if they [remained] living in the village.”

“If they don’t leave, they will be killed for sure as the local protesters [feel] intimidated,” he said.

The people of Som Thom commune’s Somtrak Thmey village, Mr. Vichet continued, had allowed the couple to return to farm their land during the day but only on the condition that they stay in neighboring Somtrak Chas village by night.

“To save [Mr. Vem’s] life, we can­not completely oppose the local villagers so we agreed for him and his wife to temporarily move out [of the village],” Mr. Vichet said.

At the meetings, police told the villagers that there was no concrete evidence of sorcery. The villagers, however, believe that Mr. Vem had been cheating his ill neighbors out of money for treatment, said Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local human rights group Adhoc.

“Relatives of sick people alleged that whenever they offered [Mr. Vem] little [money for traditional medicine treatment] it wouldn’t help much, but that the ill person would have a fast recovery after paying much money,” Mr. Thy said.

Mr. Thy said that irate villagers had chopped down the evicted couple’s crop of bratel—a member of the ginger family—suspecting that the spice was used in black magic.

“Through our investigation, the accusation has been delivered because of hate, not sorcery-related,” he added.

Bratel plant has been used traditionally by Cambodians to cure stomach ailments and muscle aches, not in black magic, he added.

In December, Noy Lunh, a 64-year-old Tampoun minority and traditional healer, was killed in Lapo village in Banlung City’s Yeak Lom commune, where he was treating a patient. Mr. Lunh, also accused of sorcery, was stabbed once in the back with a sharp weapon and died at the scene.

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