After working in London for two years, 27-year-old Brazilian national Daniel Alves de Lima decided to travel to Southeast Asia last October.
But in an echo of the case of missing British teenager Eddie Gibson, who disappeared in Cambodia in 2004, the mechanical engineer from the small city of Colombo in the southeast of Brazil vanished in November after last being seen in Sihanoukville.
Lima’s cousin, Jean Johnson, has been in Cambodia for a month looking in vain for leads that might explain his cousin’s disappearance.
Arriving in the country last month, Johnson started following the only two clues he had: A postcard sent from Siem Reap that reached Lima’s mother in Brazil in December and an e-mail to Lima’s Thai girlfriend that placed him on “the coast” in mid-November.
On Nov 5, Lima sent an e-mail to his mother, Juvina Lima, saying he was enjoying his trip and would be leaving Bangkok for Cambodia, according to his cousin.
Lima was very close to his family and often e-mailed home, Johnson said. However, when communication stopped and after months without news, Lima’s family and friends prompted Johnson to come to Cambodia to find him.
A visit to Siem Reap bore no information, so Johnson flew to Phnom Penh, where the immigration police office informed him that Lima had entered Cambodia on Nov 6 through the Poipet border crossing. Immigration police had no record of Lima leaving the country, Johnson said. Other than the date of entry, immigration officials could offer little help.
“I went to immigration on March 20 and the man said he will see what he can do,” Johnson said, adding that the immigration official had declined to give his name. Johnson said the office warned him that “it’s too hard to find missing people in Cambodia.”
In Bangkok, Johnson had met with Lima’s Thai girlfriend who had an e-mail dated Nov 20 in which Lima said that after a few more days on “the coast” in Cambodia he would be returning to Brazil, Johnson said.
Johnson traveled to Sihanoukville, where he found several people who recognized Lima from his photo.
Johnson’s investigation led him to Sihanoukville’s Mash and Melting Pot Guesthouse where a woman recognized Lima in a photo and told him that he had stayed at the guesthouse, although she could not remember the exact dates, he said.
However, Dutch national Tinja Wethekam, owner of the Mash and Melting Pot Guesthouse, said Sunday that although he remembered meeting Lima, the Brazilian never stayed at his guesthouse.“We checked all the books, but he did not stay in our guesthouse,” Wethekam said.
Sihanoukville immigration police chief Sam Saroeun said he had received a missing person report on Lima from the Ministry of Interior along with orders to investigate from ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak.
Khieu Sopheak said Sunday that he was unaware of the case.
Immigration Police Headquarters officials said Sunday that they had received no complaint regarding Lima’s disappearance in Cambodia.
Chhay Bunna, chief of the international borders department at the immigration police, also said that he had received no complaint and suggested that Lima is probably in Thailand. “I want [Lima’s] cousin to complain to the Ministry of Interior,” Chhay Bunna said.
Johnson said Sunday that at this point he would be glad to find any evidence of what happened to his cousin—even if Lima never makes it home. “I’ve worked for 16 years for the UN. I’ve worked in the Middle East, Kosovo and Africa,” Johnson said. “I know the situation.”