When an American expatriate fell into the Tonle Sap river from a tourist boat last month, authorities called in the navy. When a Cambodian sex worker apparently met the same fate on Sunday night, authorities did nothing.
Two days after witnesses told authorities that the woman hit her head and fell into the river as she tried to elude security guards, the guards’ chief said Phnom Penh authorities were not searching for her body because they lacked evidence that she fell in.
“We don’t have any firsthand information or clues about her fall into the river, so we can’t go directly and find her in the river,” said Kim Vutha, chief of the Daun Penh district security guards, on Tuesday. “We think she might have left for the provinces to escape from us.”
Witnesses, however, told authorities at the time that the woman, identified as Pen Kunthea by a local NGO, slipped while attempting to jump from one boat to another near the Wat Phnom tourist boat dock on Sunday night, hitting her head as she fell into the water. They said the missing woman and about four others were chased by Daun Penh guards.
Mr. Vutha said district guards had conducted raids on sex workers on Sunday night, but did not chase the women to the river.
One witness, tourist boat owner Chheang Leak, said the guards threatened her when she attempted to help Ms. Kunthea after she fell into the river.
On Tuesday, guards looked for Ms. Kunthea in Phsar Chas commune, where she was known to play cards, but neither found her nor any evidence confirming witness accounts of the pursuit, Mr. Vutha said. “We can’t…dive and find her because it’s not normal to let people search for a person when we aren’t clear where she is.”
However, on December 7, when 59-year-old American Ken Cramer was seen falling into the river while disembarking a party boat, a search began almost immediately. His body was found near Koh Pich island a day later.
The district police chief could not be reached on Tuesday.