sacramento, California -Touch Srey Nich doesn’t have anything to say about politics.
That’s what family members and supporters say as soon as they hear that a reporter has stepped into the house.
When Touch Sieng, father of the once-popular Cambodian singer, is asked why he thinks his daughter was shot three times by an assassin in Phnom Penh in October 2003, and his wife was killed by that same assassin, he shakes his head and shrugs.
“I don’t know,” he said.
And that’s what most members of the Cambodian-American community say as well. They have theories and they’ve heard rumors. But mostly they are bewildered, and they are worried that if Touch Srey Nich and her family ever talk openly about the shooting, the family risks their lives.
The famous pop singer, who remains paralyzed from the neck down after a gunman shot her three times in the neck and face, spends her days lying under a pink quilt in the back bedroom of a duplex home in Sacramento.
In October, Touch Srey Nich, 25, was recognized as a refugee and a person of concern by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangkok where she had received medical treatment since shortly after her attack.
She arrived in Sacramento on Jan 21 with her father, brother and sister.
Sharon Young, a Cambodian-American from Arlington, Virginia, echoed a sentiment of many Cambodian-Americans who lived through the Pol Pot regime and refuse to consider returning to their homeland because of safety fears: “What can you expect from a country that doesn’t have any laws?”
Young flew from across the US to California to see family near San Francisco and to give moral support to Touch Srey Nich.
When asked what theories the Cambodian-American community has for why Touch Srey Nich was attacked, Young said: “We don’t know. She’s just a singer. We have the same questions. She’s just a young singer.”
Touch Sieng said his daughter never had a boyfriend, countering the theory that the attack was ordered by a jealous and high-ranking lover.
“My daughter never had any relationship whatsoever. They built up that rumor, but it is just speculation. She did not have any relationship,” he said.
When given the name of one very high-ranking Cambodian official, Touch Sieng firmly denied that his daughter had ever been involved with him. He also said that Touch Srey Nich had not been a supporter of Funcinpec and declined to discuss any other related matters.
“I don’t know about politics,” he said.
After a six-month trip to the US in 2001, in which she performed in front of Cambodian-American audiences across the country, Touch Srey Nich began singing about democracy and human rights.
This may have worried powerful people in Phnom Penh, according to Kith Pong, a Cambodian-American here who is raising money for Touch Srey Nich and her family.
“She loved her country and she loved democracy,” Kith Pong said. “She was very popular and she stood up on politics. [People in power] were afraid maybe that the Cambodian people would follow her lead.”
Touch Maneth was a witness to the attack and loaded his injured sister and dying mother into the family’s car after the shooting, though his mother fell out of the car as he sped away from the scene of the shooting and toward Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital.
But on Sunday, the 22-year-old declined to comment on the attack.
For her part, Touch Srey Nich said she doesn’t know who shot her or who would want to shoot her. She is polite and patient with visitors, but when asked if she remembers anything from the attack, her voice rises and becomes clear and firm.
“No,” she says in English.
And when asked if she would like to send a message to her fans in Cambodia, Touch Srey Nich said: “I don’t have anything to say at this time.” (Part 2 of this story will appear in The Weekend, Feb 19-20)