Soam Sophal, 40, standing by his wife’s bedside in Preah Kossamak Hospital, was worried about the medical bills after they had been attacked with acid 40 hours earlier on Saturday evening.
Mr Sophal, a farmer, said he could not afford treatment for his wife, Eang Pheach, 31, who lay next to him with cloth covering her burned face and body so only her corroded arms were exposed.
“Maybe I have to sell my land, but I have to find a way out,” he said, holding medical bills he had paid already totaling $740 from the Tuol Kok clinic where his wife, a garment worker, spent the night of the attack.
On Monday afternoon, the couple sought refuge with the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, which transferred them to the Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Center, outside Phnom Penh.
Mr Sophal had heard in the media that acid attacks destroyed lives. “Now, I don’t know why it happened, and I have no control of the situation.”
Mr Sophal, whose own arms were burned, said he could not identify two men on a motorcycle who doused them while driving along Russian Federation Boulevard in Sen Sok district.“Who can bear being hurt without any anger? But we don’t know what to do.” His wife received just $105 in severance after the factory she worked at, June Textile, burned down on March 31.
Hospital records showed Ms Pheach suffered third degree burns to 35 percent of her body including her head, chest, arms and right thigh.
Horng Lairapo, chief of medical and legal units at CASC, said they transferred the couple on Monday to give them free treatment. “As the first emergency, we want to save her eyes,” he said.
Meanwhile, police in Sen Sok district remained reluctant to speak about the incident. “We first suspected that the victim was part of a love triangle,” said district police chief Mak Hong. “Now, police are investigating the case,” he said, declining to comment further.
Victims scarred by acid attacks said at CASC’s shelter on Monday that justice remained elusive and too costly.
Oum Pich Sokneam, 30, whose face was burned in an acid attack, said she could not afford to seek punishment of her attacker who lived freely in Preah Vihear province. “My brother told me that if we filed a complaint, we would need a lot of money and we would not get compensation,” she said.
Another victim, Chan Bunthoeun, 35, from Kompong Speu province, said she stayed at the charity’s shelter due to poverty. “Nobody helped me at the time I was attacked,” she said.
A draft law, which includes life sentences for acid attackers and regulations on the handling, storage and sale of acid, is currently under review at the Council of Ministers.
Interior Ministry undersecretary of state Ouk Kim Lek said that under the draft law, the government must provide legal and medical aid to victims and assist in their rehabilitation. A fund for such activities would be opened after the passing of the law. “We do not have that fund yet,” Mr Kim Lek added.
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who in 2002 attempted to introduce draft legislation to punish acid attackers, said the government failed to provide proper health care or justice for victims.
“Because of that, the victims of acid attacks [and] violence are victimized three times,” Ms Sochua said, blaming attacks on a culture of impunity.
Ou Virak, executive director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, doubted that the Social Affairs and Health ministries would be able to respond to victims’ needs after the law passes. “Given Cambodia’s track record I am pretty doubtful,” Mr Virak said. “The law could be a good beginning, but ultimately prosecutions and fighting impunity are the biggest changes needed to prevent acid attacks.”
National police and Interior Ministry spokesmen could not be reached yesterday.
So far this year, three previous acid attacks have been recorded, CASC said, noting that there were 19 acid attacks injuring 19 women and 17 men in the whole of last year, CASC said.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)