Victims, Lawyers Haggle Over Shooting Payoff

Relatives of the victims of a shooting spree near the Royal Palace that left a woman dead and two others injured said Monday that they were negotiating compensation with a lawyer for the assailant, who is at large, which could lead some of them to forego legal action.

Mon Keosivin, a lawyer acting for the suspected assailant, 25-year-old RCAF Lieutenant Heng Phanith, has approached family members of the three victims to offer amounts between $3,500 and $4,000, relatives said.

Mon Keosivin declined to discuss dollar amounts on Monday but said Heng Phanith’s family is simply trying to ease the victims’ pain and suffering and are not seeking to buy their silence.

Police on Sunday said that Heng Phanith was wanted in connection with the shooting in which he allegedly opened fire on a crowd gathered opposite the palace early Thursday morning. The young man, witnesses said, opened fire indiscriminately after discovering that his Lexus SUV had been damaged by a group of men who had smashed its rear windscreen.

Suon Saravy, uncle of the 21-year-old waitress Suon Chanthoeun who died from a gunshot wound at the scene, said that his brother, the victim’s father Suon Dara, reduced his demand on Monday from $10,000 to $8,000 but that Mon Keosivin was offering only $3,500.

For $5,000, Suon Dara will withdraw a complaint filed with police, Suon Saravy said.

Chhin Bunthoeun, 22, husband of Kheng Kunthea, also 22, said a private financial bargain was more preferable than trying to pursue a prosecution in the country’s courts. A bullet fired by the shooter pierced Kheng Kunthea’s left flank, puncturing her stomach and intestines and damaging her liver before lodging in her right forearm, he said.

“First we demanded $7,000 but then the lawyer only agreed to $4,000,” Chhin Bunthoeun said, adding that the offer would likely not cover medical expenses, which included $400 for a single operation and $50 to $60 per day of medical care.

“My wife is still in the emergency room,” he said. “We have spent over $1,500.”

Mon Keosivin said Monday that Heng Phanith’s family only wants to ease the pain and suffering of their fellow Khmers.

“I am lobbying all the victims to accept compensation. We are Khmer and Khmer. We need to help the victims,” he said. “Among the three victims’ families, only one has accepted.”

“Now we are running the paperwork and will pay them soon to help,” he said.

He also said that offering compensation was neither illegal nor unethical as police can prosecute crimes even in the absence of a complaint by the victims.

“The victims have two rights, civil and criminal. It is not against our rules,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said Sunday that payment of compensation by the assailant to his victims and their relatives would not necessarily prevent police from investigating.

However Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid group Cambodian Defenders Project, said Monday that authorities often take no action when victims do not complain. He also said poorer members of the public may prefer not to seek compensation in court because courts award smaller damages to the poor. Payment may come only after years of legal procedure, he added.

“The value of the people depends on rich or poor,” Sok Sam Oeun said.

“If you are poor, your value is less,” he said. “To the small amount, the poor people always agree.”

“The equality of persons is just introduced. It is not yet generally accepted.”

(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)

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