Dambe district, Kompong Cham province – Pov Noeurn says her 15-year-old daughter and two other young people would not have been brutally murdered if police had done their job.
The serial tragedy began on May 27 when two masked men attacked her daughter, Pov Norng, and one raped her, Ms Noeurn said last week.
“If police had arrested Tong on the day we called police, there would not be a lot of victims and death like this,” she said as tears streamed down her face.
“I think that police gave Doeurk Tong a choice [of paying compensation or being arrested for the rape of my daughter], but instead he killed all the witnesses so he could close the case easier that way than paying the money to me.”
Three murders later, including that of Ms Noeurn’s daughter, Doeurk Tong is now in jail on charges of raping the 15-year-old and later killing her along with 20-year-old Thy Sothen, who police suspect of arranging the rape, and his girlfriend, 18-year-old Moung Sreyroth, who was also raped before she was strangled, had her neck broken and finally her body hanged from a cashew tree.
Though she had informed police that Doeurk Tong, 35, was the man who she believed raped her daughter, Ms Noeurn claimed that Chong Cheach commune police officers were more focused on making a profit from the attack on her daughter than arresting the rapist. A fateful decision that led to even greater tragedy.
The discovery of this local bloodbath started on May 31 when police found the badly-beaten and bound body of Thy Sothen at the bottom of a water well in Memot district, more than 50 kilometers away from his home in Dambe district.
The next day they found the body of Moung Sreyroth, 18, strung up in a tree after being raped and brutally killed. It took police until June 4 to find the last body in the killing spree: the decomposing body of Ms Noeurn’s 15-year-old daughter was found two kilometers from the site of the other two killings. She was missing most of her teeth and her body was punctured with stab wounds.
Police say that along with the prime suspect, Doeurk Tong, as many as six other suspects could have been involved in the triple murder.
All could have been avoided if police had arrested Doeurk Tong in the first place, Ms Noeurn claimed on Tuesday, recounting how she went to the police telling them she wanted the suspect thrown in jail for raping her daughter.
Police responded, however, asking how much “compensation” money she wanted, Ms Noeurn said, adding that she agreed to the cash settlement as she had very little choice as the police were focused on their cut from the future cash payment rather than on seeing Doeurk Tong go to court.
Even to investigate the rape of her daughter, commune police had already demanded 70,000 riel, a $5 phone card and petrol money for their motorcycles, she claimed.
“I don’t think this is my fault. If I didn’t ask for the [compensation] money police would not work,” she said. “I am in so much pain. Now I have nothing. She was my only daughter and now I have no hope.”
Demoralized at their disinterest in putting the attacker before the court, Mr Noeurn said she told police she wouldn’t accept anything less than $4,000 from the alleged rapist.
Police now say that Doeurk Tong’s desire to avoid legal consequences for the rape spurred on the deaths of the victim and two witnesses in the attack.
Choen Tong, the police chief of Chong Cheach commune, admitted last week to asking only 20,000 riel from Ms Noeurn to pay for a phone card, but called the money a “donation.” Mr Tong said that police followed procedures after the rape of Ms Noeurn’s daughter was reported.
Dambe District police chief Khun Dien denied Ms Noeurn’s story outright about his officers’ alleged disinterest in prosecutions over cash payments, claiming that the girl did not identify either attacker as both wore scarves tied around their faces to conceal their identity.
“She said there was a big man and a small man” who had raped her daughter, Mr Dien said. “We did our duty. None of my police would ever seek compensation.”
But then the police chief’s take on the events starts to break down, as he said that police only considered Doeurk Tong a suspect after people started to show up dead, and the killings appeared to be a cull of witnesses.
Whether police believed or not that Doeurk Tong was involved in the rape, Ms Noeurn’s daughter knew she had to get out of town.
On the morning of May 30, Ms Noeurn found that her daughter had fled with 70,000 riel, and three changes of clothes.
“I don’t know where she went,” Ms Noeurn said. She never saw her daughter alive again.
The family of Sreyroth, the 18-year-old victim, had a similar story saying that their daughter left the night of May 29 with 100,000 riel and three changes of clothes, her destination unknown. Sreyroth was the girlfriend of Thy Sothen who had a key role in the affair as he had driven Ms Noeurn’s daughter to the secluded spot where she was raped. Though he was a childhood friend of the victim, police believe Thy Sothen had set up the rape with Doeurk Tong.
And when the police started to investigate, Thy Sothen also became a key witness to the whole grisly affair, and by default a serious threat to Doeurk Tong.
Sothen’s mother, Choem Ryna, said her son and the two girls fled because they knew they were in danger.
She claimed last week that during a telephone conversation on May 29 with Doeurk Tong, the suspect confessed to the rape of Ms Noeurn’s daughter and said that her son arranged it.
“[Doeurk Tong] said be quiet, don’t do anything, if not your son will die,” Ms Ryna recounted.
“I told my son that you have to leave for Kratie in order to hide and then on May 30 he called me to say he had arrived there,” she said.
Ms Ryna said she had instructed her son to stay in Kratie and leave only after she said it was safe.
“I asked my son ‘who is with you?’ and he said that ‘Sreyroth and Norng are traveling with me to meet Doeurk Tong who will give us 300,000 riel to travel to Thailand.'”
On May 31, her son called again to saying instead that he had arranged his safe return to Kompong Cham province and that he was returning home soon.
“I told my son that he had been tricked, but he didn’t believe me,” Ms Ryna said.
Police found his body dumped in well later that day. The bodies of the two girls turned up in the following days.
Dambe district police chief Khun Dien said that his officers are working flat out on the case, which likely involved around six perpetrators, but so far they have no other names.
Bith Kimhong, chief of the National Police’s anti-human trafficking chief, said police take rape seriously, and that compensation deals violate the law.
“I will investigate this case, and if it is true, then police will punish them based on the law,” he said.
Thy Somalai, Kompong Cham provincial monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said that poverty and a lack of faith in the justice system encourages not only victims to seek out compensation from perpetrators, but police are also in on the business. And police frequently find that even when they do their jobs and arrest perpetrators, court officials themselves negotiate the same compensation deals which let criminals free once money has changed hands.
“Without any incentive police will not work for villagers, which is a bad example, and makes villagers lose trust that they will get justice,” Ms Somalai said.
Under-funded police officers also often don’t have the money to investigate crimes properly and, added to that, some don’t consider rape to be a serious crime.
And while the rapes and murders of Ms Norng and Ms Sreyroth are horrifying, there’s no lack of similar cases this year.
The Cambodia Daily has reported on 12 rape and murder cases of women and children since January, with four rape-killings in May alone.
Rape and murders this year are now on track to exceed the 27 rape and murders recorded in 2009 by local rights group Adhoc.