Remains Believed to Be Missing Frenchman and his Children

Chbar Mon city, Kompong Speu province – Police on Saturday found the remains of five bodies thought to belong to a missing Frenchman and his four young children inside his car submerged in a pond next to their home in Rakar Thom commune.

Frenchman Laurent Vallier, 42, and his four children, aged 2 to 9, went missing about four months ago from their home, which was cordoned off as a crime scene yesterday.

Provincial and Interior Ministry-level police yesterday swarmed around Vallier’s garden, conducting forensic tests on the bones, spraying the muddied SUV with a fireman’s hose and collecting evidence to determine if the family were murdered or the deaths were due to suicide.

The recovered bones belong to one adult and four children but have not yet been formally identified. Police said yesterday that they suspect the remains belong to Vallier and his family, said Chhay Sinarith, director of the Interior Ministry’s internal security department.

He said police had also recovered an urn of ashes from the inside the car that are believed to be the cremated remains of Vallier’s wife, who died two years ago.

One of the children’s skulls was found in an open suitcase used to hold repair tools, said Mr. Sinarith. “It doesn’t mean they were murdered,” he said, adding that the skull might have fallen into the suitcase while the white 4X4 Nissan SUV was being dredged out of the pond where it was discovered.

“It is to early to confirm the cause of death and we are waiting for experts to finish the investigation,” he said.

When the family disappeared around mid-September local authorities found a starved monkey and dead dog chained to the fence of their empty house, but it took until early January for police to break the locks on the door of the house.

After a police search in conjunction with the French Embassy, a neighbor on Saturday noticed part of Vallier’s car sticking out of a deep pond in the family’s garden, said commune police chief Noy Sarith, who was called to the scene.

“Immediately we took the car out from the pond and found the bones of the father and children,” Mr. Sarith said.

“The experts have not yet done the analysis so we do not know if they were murdered or committed suicide.”

Taking a break from helping police yesterday, Sar Savy, 52, the mother of Vallier’s late wife, Lon Sina, who died while giving birth to their youngest son two years ago, held a photograph of the couple at their traditional Khmer wedding.

Ms. Savy said that Vallier could not have taken his own life and the lives of her grandchildren Chhuon Yon, whom she said was 11 though others said 9, Chhuon Rasmey, 8, Chhuon Sreyvann, 6, and Chhuon Micle, 2. “He loved his children very much. There’s no way he would have committed suicide and killed them,” she said. “I guess that maybe it was a murder and police have to investigate what happened.”

Ms. Savy, who is from Prey Veng but lives in Phnom Penh, last came to visit the family during the first few days of the Pchum Ben festival in September just before their disappearance. “I really want my grandchildren to be alive again,” she said. “I am very, very sad about losing them.”

After her daughter died, Ms. Savy and her husband stayed with the family for about five months until there was a minor family argument, which she declined to discuss. She said that two of her other daughters also lived at the house for a while longer.

Heng Leangkim, 14, a classmate of the eldest son, Yon, said that he stopped coming to school about three or four days after the school year began. “He was very tall and friendly,” Leangkim said.

Vallier moved to Cambodia 12 years ago and opened Le Bout du Monde, the first guesthouse catering to foreign tourists in Kep province. After meeting his wife in Kep, they moved to take up farming in Kampot province in 2003 and later moved to Kompong Speu where he worked as a farmer and private tour guide.

The French Embassy on Saturday announced the discovery of the bones. “Up to now because of the state of the corpses, it is impossible to confirm that these are Mr. Vallier and his children,” a statement said.

Premier Conseiller Dominique Mas said that the embassy was in contact with Cambodian police and two French officials visited the scene on Saturday.

“We are ready to provide support if there is any need or request,” Mr. Mas said, noting that Vallier’s parents in France had been informed. “With French residents dying in Cambodia, we contact the family and ask what they want to happen” with the remains, he added.

Neighbor Hem Sav, 67, sobbed into a red krama outside the cordoned-off house alongside a crowd of onlookers yesterday morning. “My grandchildren were close friends with his children. They used to play together,” Ms. Sav said. “It’s a murder case,” she speculated. “Why would he kill his lovely children like that? There’s no reason.”

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