An American construction consultant and a Japanese tourist were shot and seriously injured during separate armed robberies in Phnom Penh over the weekend, prompting the Japanese Embassy on Sunday to express concern for the safety of its citizens in Cambodia.
Maurice Law, 57, who lives in Cambodia, was shot in the groin at about 7 p.m. on Friday after being held up at gunpoint while walking home with his wife in Chamkar Mon district’s Tonle Bassac commune.
In a separate incident on Saturday night, Sakiko Takayanagi, 33, a tourist, was robbed and shot in the left leg near the popular Night Market in Daun Penh’s Wat Phnom commune at about 8 p.m.
Pale and visibly shaken in a private room at Calmette Hosptial, where doctors had operated on his groin and left thigh late Friday night, Mr. Law on Sunday described the minutes leading up to the shooting, while his wife Debbie, also 57, recounted the events from her perspective.
The couple said they had been walking home from dinner when two men on a motorbike drove up behind them in an alleyway near the intersection of streets 308 and 21.
“They picked a corner that was very, very dark. And they came up really quietly and the passenger jumped off and was very, very close to me with the gun…two feet [away],” Ms. Law said, adding that she immediately handed over her purse—which she said contained only a small amount of cash—and her iPhone, and began screaming for help.
“I was maybe three steps in front of my wife,” Mr. Law continued, “and then I heard her scream and I turned back and I thought, ‘This is a joke.’ But whoever these two gentlemen were, they were very comfortable with guns. They had a poise about them…. I could see determination on their faces,” Mr. Law said, adding that both men carried handguns.
“So I just told them, ‘Don’t hurt my wife, don’t hurt my wife,’ and they took her bag and got on their moto and drove away, and as they were driving away, they shot at me, and hit me,” Mr. Law said of the vicious attack.
Mr. Law was then taken in a tuk-tuk to Calmette Hospital, where he was operated on. The bullet had entered his upper groin, exited through his lower groin, then pierced his thigh, leaving a final exit wound “at least as big as a quarter,” Mr. Law said.
The Laws have been coming to Cambodia since 2008, splitting their time between Phnom Penh and Hawaii. Mr. Law works as a construction consultant while his wife volunteers at an orphanage.
The shootings—both perpetrated by pairs of men on a single motorbike—follow a vicious attack by masked men in plain clothes on foreign journalists and peaceful protesters at Wat Phnom on September 22. Nobody has yet been held responsible for the attack, which occurred late at night and under the gaze of riot police.
Municipal foreigner police chief Mom Sitha said Sunday that the perpetrators of Friday’s attack have not yet been identified. “The municipal police are cooperating with other [police] forces to find the robbers, but they are still at large,” Mr. Sitha said.
Mr. Sitha added that a similar pair of armed thieves robbed then shot Ms. Takayanagi, the Japanese tourist, at about 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“Their actions were similar [to the perpetrators of Friday’s attack]. They robbed a Japanese woman on the corner of streets 110 and 13,” he said, adding that police still had no leads in the attack that took place on Saturday.
Ms. Takayanagi had been walking alone in the vicinity of the Night Market, a popular tourist attraction, when she was shot in the left thigh, said Yoshihiro Higuchi, deputy head of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh, by telephone Sunday.
“The perpetrators approached and tried to snatch her bag. She resisted and suddenly they shot one [bullet] in her thigh and she was hospitalized,” Mr. Higuchi said, declining to say where Ms. Takayanagi was being treated.
“I heard that she is okay; she is not in a critical situation,” Mr. Higuchi said, adding that the bullet, still lodged in the victim’s leg, was set to be removed Sunday.
Mr. Higuchi said the Japanese Embassy would next week send out a notice to Japanese citizens living in Phnom Penh, alerting them of the dangers of living in Cambodia.
In March, Japanese businessman Kitakura Kosei was shot dead outside his Boeng Keng Kang I home by two gunmen on a motorbike, who then robbed him of as much as $10,000, which he had won gambling at Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino.
“We cannot discourage the Japanese people to come to Cambodia, but nevertheless, we will give them a very serious warning: If you want to come to Cambodia, you have to be always careful…. I cannot [guarantee], the embassy cannot [guarantee], 100-percent safety,” he said.
Mr. Higuchi said the Japanese Embassy is also considering the possibility that the shooting of Ms. Takayanagi is indicative of growing instability in Cambodia as a result of the recent political impasse between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP.
“We have to analyze carefully if this incident has anything to do with the political situation or not,” he said.
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the state-private working group on tourism policy, also said the weekend’s robbery-shootings, both widely reported in local media, are cause for concern.
“These [crimes] just happen… after the election, we wish to see more safety and more security as [there was] previously.”
“We request to…the police to strengthen the security and safety of all tourists,” he added.
John Simmons, assistant public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, declined Sunday to comment on the shooting of Mr. Law.
“We do monitor the security situation in Cambodia and we encourage Americans to sign up for security updates on our website,” he said in an email.
In January 2012, 24-year-old American Richard Arthur was shot in the buttock on Street 51 by a bodyguard allegedly attempting to prevent the victim from attacking the vehicle in which his unnamed employer was traveling.
Lying in his hospital bed Sunday, Mr. Law said that while he harbored no animosity toward Cambodians, his impression of the country as whole has changed for the worse.
“We’ve got no anger toward anyone, we are just saddened that two people could ruin the reputation of a country,” he said.
“It’s a different Phnom Penh right now.”
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment.
© 2013, All rights reserved.