So Sophal, 40, gently dabbed bathroom tissue on the skin peeling from the face of his 30-year-old wife yesterday after they suffered an acid attack in Phnom Penh on Saturday evening that left her features partially melted away.
Two men on a motorcycle doused the couple with acid as they drove on Russian Federation Boulevard in Sen Sok district at about 9 pm, said Mr Sophal, who was stroking the dark burned skin on Eang Phean’s head, chest, arms and back in Preah Kossamak Hospital. His own arms were also burned.
“I don’t know who did it,” he said quietly. “I don’t know anything, but I think the police are working on the case, and I hope they find the criminal.”
Mr Sophal said that he had come from Prey Veng province on Saturday to visit his wife who was riding behind him on a motorcycle when the attack happened.
Ms Phean, lying motionless wrapped in a sarong with her eyes barely open, said she worked at the June Textile factory until it burned down on Mar 31. The scene of the attack was near the former factory, where workers have staged multiple protests to demand better severance pay.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ms Phean said, noting that she had never been threatened or involved in any disputes. My skin “is cold now, and I feel like throwing up.”
At about 8:30 on Saturday evening, a reporter witnessed Ms Phean barely clothed and trembling by the side of Russian Federation Boulevard as a woman poured water on her body, as the vitriol continued to burn her body. As other people fetched more water, drivers slowed down to watch the scene.
“I was shocked and felt compassion for her,” said Kim Heng, a street vendor who said he witnessed the response to the crime by members of the public but not the attack itself.
Police in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district were reluctant to talk about the crime yesterday.
Cheav Vibol, deputy district police chief, said police had a report on the incident, but police declined to discuss details, citing the ongoing investigation.
“I’m sorry I can’t say anything now,” Mr Vibol said.
So far this year two previous acid attacks in Phnom Penh and one in Banteay Meanchey province have been recorded, said Dr Horng Lairapo, chief of medical and legal units at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.
There were 19 acid attacks injuring 19 women and 17 men in the whole of last year, CASC said. Nearly half of the attacks in 2010 happened in Phnom Penh.
Advocates of a draft law on the use of acid, which includes life sentences for the acid attackers and regulations of the handling, storage and sale of acid, hope it will combat the crime. The draft is currently being reviewed at the Council of Ministers.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Teng Savong, who headed the committee to draft the law, said legal experts at the Council of Ministers had already suggested changes.
“We created this law to cut down acid crime, although we cannot completely eliminate it,” he said.
Dr Lairapo said the new legislation urgently needed approval.
“The acid law has not yet passed, but acid attacks still continue to happen more and more,” he said.
Ou Virak, executive director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, warned that drafting the new law would only partly solve the problem.
“A majority of the cases are not properly investigated,” Mr Virak said. “Only in rare cases do we see prosecution.”
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)