A torn blue shirt, a discarded sandal, pieces of cement blocks and a stick stained with blood were all that marked the spot Wednesday where motorbike taxi drivers beat a suspected purse-snatcher to death on Monday afternoon.
But the incident was still fresh in the minds of witnesses, who said the drivers were standing up to the thieves plaguing the country.
“I believe the police cannot protect against pickpockets, because there are not enough police,” said Phin Phally, 29, a motorbike taxi driver who saw the mob beat the man, but, like others interviewed, did not see the theft.
Phin Phally said he saw about 50 taxi drivers chasing the man and another person on a motorbike around 3 pm on Street 271 in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district.
The bike crashed into a truck and the truck owner grabbed the man and handed him over to police, Phin Phally said.
Minutes later, the man escaped, police but the mob caught him and began to beat him, Phin Phally said. The second man escaped.
Phin Phally said he had no qualms with the killing.
“The beating is good,” he said. “Why did he commit a crime?” Drivers have to stand up for themselves, he added.
“I hear the police always saying they can protect us but [pickpocketing] still happens,” he said.
Ee Mom, 49, watched the mob kill the man.
“The thief deserves to be killed,” she said. “If the police arrest and release him, he will repeat the same actions.”
Others were not so adamant.
“It’s very cruel,” said motorbike taxi driver Sim Sinath, 24. But he agreed that police can’t seem to protect taxi drivers, who are often targeted by pickpockets.
Municipal police Chief Heng Pov said his officers always try to protect those accused of crimes.
“The mob killing is unacceptable,” he said, but admitted police are often at a loss when it comes to dealing with mobs.
Thun Saray of the local rights group Adhoc said mob killings are dangerous in any society.
“We are concerned about innocent people being killed by the mob,” he said.
He said police should arrest those involved in such killings so people realize it’s wrong.
“If we let them free, they will continue,” Thun Saray said.