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 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 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 police gave Doeurk Tong a choice [of paying compenstion or being arrested for rape], but instead he killed all the witnesses so he could close the case…[rather] than paying the money to me.”
Three murders later, including that of Ms Noeurn’s daughter, Doeurk Tong is 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, Moung Sreyroth, 18, who was also raped before being strangled, having her neck broken and finally her body hanged from a cashew tree.
Ms Noeurn claimed she told Chong Cheach commune police she believed Doeurk Tong, 35, was the man who raped her daughter, but that officers were more focused on making a profit than arresting the rapist: a fateful decision that led to even greater tragedy.
The discovery of this local bloodbath started 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 km from his home in Dambe district.
The next day, they found the body of Ms Sreyroth, who had been raped and brutally killed, strung up in a tree. It took police until June 4 to find the final victim in the killing spree. The decomposing body of Ms Noeurn’s 15-year-old daughter was found 2 km from the site of the other two killings. She was missing most of her teeth and her body bore multiple stab wounds.
Police say that along with the prime suspect, Doeurk Tong, up to six other suspects could have been involved in the triple murder.
It could all have been avoided if police had arrested Doeurk Tong in the first place, Ms Noeurn claimed Tuesday, recounting how she went to police telling them she wanted the suspect thrown in jail for raping her daughter.
Police responded, however, by asking how much “compensation” money she wanted, Ms Noeurn said. 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, Ms Noeurn said she told police she wanted at least $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 only to asking for 20,000 riel from Ms Noeurn to pay for a phone card, but called the money a “donation.” Mr Tong said police followed procedures after the rape of Ms Noeurn’s daughter was reported.
Dambe district police chief Khun Dien denied outright Ms Noeurn’s story about his officers’ alleged lack of interest in prosecutions, in favor of cash payments, claiming that the girl did not identify either attacker, as both wore scarves around their faces to conceal their identities.
“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.”
The chief said police only considered Doeurk Tong a suspect after people started showing up dead, and the killings took on the appearance of a cull of witnesses.
Whether or not police believed 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 parents of Ms Sreyroth had a similar story, saying their daughter left on the night of May 29 with 100,000 riel and three changes of clothes, her destination unknown. Ms Sreyroth was the girlfriend of Mr 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 close friend of the victim, police believe Mr Sothen set up the rape with Doeurk Tong.
When police started to investigate, Mr Sothen also became a key witness to the whole grisly affair, and by default a serious threat to Doeurk Tong.
Mr 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 in a May 29 telephone conversation with Doeurk Tong, the suspect confessed to the rape of Ms Noeurn’s daughter and said that her son had 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 [he had] to leave for Kratie in order to hide, and then on May 30 he called me to say he had arrived,” she said.
Ms Ryna said she instructed her son to stay in Kratie until she said it was safe to leave.
“I asked my son, ‘Who is with you?’ and he said, ‘Sreyroth and Norng are traveling with me to meet Doeurk Tong, who will give us 300,000 riel to go to Thailand.’”
On May 31, her son called again to say he had arranged his safe return to Kompong Cham province and that he would be 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 a well later that day. The bodies of the two girls turned up in the following days.
Dambe district police chief Khun Dien said his officers are working hard on the case, which likely involved about six perpetrators, but so far they have no other names.
Bith Kimhong, chief of the National Police’s anti-human trafficking department, 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 poverty and a lack of faith in the justice system encourage victims to seek compensation from perpetrators, and create an incentive for police to get in on the business. And police frequently find that even when they do their jobs and arrest perpetrators, court officials themselves negotiate compensation deals that let criminals go free.
“Without any incentive, police will not work for villagers, which… makes villagers lose trust that they will get justice,” Ms Somalai said.
Underfunded police officers often don’t have the money to investigate crimes properly. Added to this, some don’t consider rape to be a serious crime.
And while the rapes and murders of Ms Norng and Ms Sreyroth are horrifying, they are hardly unique 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-murders this year are now on track to exceed the 27 cases recorded in 2009 by Adhoc.