Three days ago, Sok Min, 27, was the proprietor of a coffee shop in Pur Senchey district that earned him a comfortable income of $500 to $600 per month. Now he owns only an empty building filled with shards of glass and trash.
Protesters targeted Mr. Min’s shop just off Veng Sreng Street in Choam Chao commune on Friday afternoon in what he and neighbors say was an ethnically motivated attack. He is Vietnamese, but took a Khmer name after emigrating here about 10 years ago.
“They just looked for Vietnamese places,” he said. “They didn’t hurt places that weren’t Vietnamese.”
When reporters arrived at the shop on Sunday, an apparently intoxicated local man was defecating on the floor. Broken glass and empty coffee bags were scattered everywhere; women’s clothes and undergarments had been thrown into the bathroom and stuffed into the toilets.
“They took everything, including clothes, four televisions, and a motorbike, totaling about $40,000. I don’t know what to do now,” Mr. Min said.
A neighbor who witnessed the attack, Tann Khieng, 60, said a group of about 100 men had broken off from the main protest and marched into the Borei Trapaing Kraloeng neighborhood, saying that they would destroy all Vietnamese-owned shops in the area.
Three female staff in the shop at the time fled by leaping from a second floor window, Mr. Min said.
A local motorcycle-taxi driver, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Thar, for fear of reprisals, said he had witnessed the looting from afar and that the culprits were not striking workers.
“Those who destroyed the shop were not garment workers, because some of them drove motorbikes, while the workers were just walking in line, dancing and shouting for an increase in their salary,” he said.
Yim Saran, Choam Chao commune police chief, confirmed the looting incident but said he was still unsure whether other similar attacks had occurred in the area.
“I am compiling a report,” he said. “I don’t know yet who caused this incident.”
At protests around Phnom Penh over the past few days, there has been significant anti-Vietnamese sentiment among demonstrators, with some of the most vocal protesters taunting police and military police with shouts of “yuon,” a term considered derogatory to Vietnamese.
Opposition to Vietnamese immigration and business interests was a key plank of the opposition CNRP’s platform in July’s election, although the party’s leaders have stressed that they do not condone violence against Vietnamese in Cambodia.
Mr. Min’s father, Doan Ba Kham, said that many of his friends and acquaintances had nonetheless returned to Vietnam for the duration of the protests.
Another Vietnamese-owned shop in the neighborhood Sunday had remained shuttered since Friday’s violence.
“She is scared of protesters,” a neighbor said of the owner of the closed shop.
© 2014, Hul Reaksmey. All rights reserved.