An angry mob of hundreds surrounded a police station in Takeo province for nine hours on Wednesday night and demanded that an alleged organ harvester accused of kidnapping a 6-year-old girl be handed over for summary execution, officials said Thursday.
Between 400 and 500 people surrounded the Char commune police station in Prey Kabbas district at about 6 p.m. and attempted to push their way inside to kill a former soldier named Doeun Kieng, 65, who they claimed had kidnapped the girl on Saturday afternoon, according to district police chief Chum Chhoeun.
“They did not listen to us because they wanted to kill that guy,” he said. “They just said: ‘Kill, kill him.’”
Mr. Chhoeun said that police were only able to sneak Mr. Kieng out of the police station at about 3 a.m.—after the women in the mob had returned home and the men had become drunk on palm wine.
“After some of them got drunk, we sent him quickly to the district police station,” he said. “The suspect could have been killed if we kept him at the commune police station.”
Mr. Chhoeun said Mr. Kieng was held at the district police station Thursday for questioning over the kidnapping allegations.
Deputy district police chief Ou Vannarith, who was among the 50 commune and district officers deployed to defuse the situation, said Mr. Kieng told investigators that he had been driving home on a dirt road in Snor commune on Saturday when he saw the girl and thought that she needed help.
“He told us that because it was raining and he could not find her parents, he decided to bring the girl to his house,” he said, adding that Mr. Kieng, who also claimed he had been drunk at the time, lived in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district.
Mr. Vannarith added that Mr. Kieng said that when he arrived home, his wife convinced him to return the child to her family, but that heavy rain delayed him for several days.
“Because of heavy rain, he decided to keep the girl with his children and provide her with food and clothes,” he said.
When the man eventually brought the girl back to Char commune on Wednesday afternoon to search for her parents, he added, a relative of the child recognized her.
“When he parked his motorbike to ask someone, a 17-year-old female cousin immediately recognized the girl and then grabbed her from his hand,” Mr. Vannarith said.
He said that a mob then quickly formed, sending Mr. Kieng running for his life, and to the police station.
“The villagers also accused him of being an organ harvester,” he added.
According to Mr. Vannarith, the mob surrounded the police station and pelted it with rocks, damaging the roof and breaking windows. He said police did not plan to arrest any of the rioters because too many people had been involved.
Sak Sa Em, chief of Char commune, said he believed that Mr. Kieng took the girl for nefarious reasons.
“If he had not had bad intentions…why did he kidnap their daughter for many days?” he said. “He should have told the local authorities that he picked up the girl.”
Mr. Sa Em added that witnesses reported that upon parking his motorbike, Mr. Khieng did not ask for the parents’ address, but rather for directions to Phnom Penh.
“The villagers believed he was trying to transport the girl to sell her in Phnom Penh,” he said.
According to the commune chief, Mr. Kieng was only able to escape from the police station after officers dressed him in a police uniform.
“I also tried to tell my villagers to stop [throwing rocks] because it was illegal,” he added. “But they were very angry.”
Yung Nhey, chief of the provincial police’s minor crimes bureau, said police might release Mr. Kieng after questioning because they did not have enough evidence to continue holding him.
“Police may not send him to court because this case was not kidnapping,” he said. “The villagers were confused, and they did not understand the situation.”