Jarai Couple in Ratanakkiri Banished From Village for Sorcery

Two ethnic Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province sought refuge with human rights group Adhoc on Tuesday when they were forced to flee their home after receiving threats from neighbors who accused them of practicing sorcery.

Romas Vem, 80, and his wife, Sev Soy, 50, were accused by residents of O’Yadaw district’s Som­trak Chas and Somtrak Thmey villages of using witchcraft to make villagers fall ill, according to the couple’s grandson, Romas Chhoeun. “If they hadn’t left the village, they would have been killed,” Mr. Chhoeun said.

The couple had been the victims of abuse for days, with locals repeatedly calling for their exile and destroying their crops on August 12, said Adhoc provincial coordinator Chhay Thy.

“A traditional meeting between village elders and the couple was held on Friday, during which the two were forced to thumbprint a document promising to leave the village,” Mr. Thy added.

He explained that the two had been accused of possessing a plant—a member of the ginger family—that is supposedly invested with magical powers.

“We, the residents of Somtrak Thmey village, made a contract with Romas Vem because he has [the plant] to make people badly sick,” the letter thumbprinted by Mr. Vem reads.

“If we don’t treat the sick people, they will die. Therefore we need to expel him from our village,” it continues.

Murder or the ostracization of people accused of practicing black magic is not uncommon in rural Cambodia, with the accused practitioners usually acting as scapegoats for a variety of ills—from sickness to bad crops.

Ma Vichet, O’Yadaw district police chief, said he had ordered his police officers to arrange a meeting with the villagers to explain that banishing people was against the law.

“There have not been so many accusations of sorcery lately, but now they have returned,” Mr. Vichet said, adding that police had in the past organized grassroots meetings attended by hundreds of mainly ethnic minority villagers during which they informed them that “killing anyone for alleged sorcery will be prosecuted according to the law.”

But “villagers’ beliefs are hard to change,” he said.

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