Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pchum Ben - In memory of those who died ... and then some

Respected KI-Media Readers,

Since Pchum Ben is a celebration for the dead, KI-Media is bringing here the cases of a few innocent Cambodian victims who lost their lives in several tragic accidents of no importance in Cambodia. We invite you to mourn with us the memories of those departed, and share the sufferings and pains of those who survived to date.


KI-Media Team


Saturday, November 1-2, 2003

The Fallen and the Free

Killing after Unsolved Killing, Violence and Impunity Reign

By Lor Chandara and Kevin Doyle
The Cambodia Daily

Tat Marina’s injuries were horrific. After she was battered to the ground unconscious by a middle-aged woman and her two bodyguards, more than one liter of nitric acid was poured over the 16-year-old’s head, face and body in December 1999.

Tat Marina (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

Her head, neck, back, chest and wrists were devastated by the flesh-eating acid. Her ears were so badly ravaged they were removed by doctors. Her lips were burned to raw, swollen blisters. Plastic tubes were set in her nostrils to keep the dead skin tissue from collapsing. Permanent blindness was only prevented by Tat Marina’s instinctive response to cover her eyes during the attack.

Police said at the time that Khoun Sophal, the wife of Council of Ministers Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha, carried out the attack in revenge for her husband’s relationship with the young karaoke video star.

An arrest warrant was issued but no one has ever been punished.

Tat Marina is in the US, where she has undergone several years of reconstructive surgery thanks to the benevolence of the Shriners’ Burns Institute in the US state of Massachusetts.

She will undergo many more years under the surgeon’s knife, but speaking from the US on Wednesday, Tat Marina had a message for her attackers and for the assailants who mowed down popular singer Touch Srey Nich on Oct 21. Shot twice in the face and once in the neck, Touch Srey Nich is currently being treated in a Bangkok hospital. Her mother was killed by the gunman.

“The shooting of elder sister Srey Nich, who I loved and respected very much, reminded me of the injustice I suffered a couple of years ago,” Tat Marina said by telephone.

“I am not angry because of their crime against me. Maybe this is my karma because I did not do good in my previous life. But I ask that [the attackers] do not laugh at us, because the ones who laugh will one day meet the same fate as we suffered,” Tat Marina said.

“One who does good acts will have good luck one day, and the one who does bad will meet with badness,” she said. “The time is not up for some people. But their time is coming.”

Tat Marina will live with her scars for life and it is still unclear if Touch Srey Nich will be left paralyzed from her attack.

Neither woman could be said to be lucky, but both survived what were premeditated and planned attacks. Many others have not.

After a week when King Norodom Sihanouk was spurred to issue a public letter denouncing and imploring Cambodia’s professional killers to give up their trade, the sons of Phnom Penh’s elite sprayed bystanders with AK-47 bullets for simply witnessing their flight from the scene of a traffic accident. The Cambodia Daily looks back at a selection of high-profile crimes and killings that remain, mostly, unsolved and unpunished to this day.


On a quiet Sunday morning in March 1997, one of Cambodia’s single greatest acts of politically motivated violence unfolded in front of the National Assembly. Around 200 people had gathered to protest corruption and CPP control over the Cambodian court system. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy was speaking to the protesters when four grenades were lobbed into the crowd, reportedly from several directions.

At least 16 people died and 125 were injured in the attack. Witnesses later claimed that an unknown number of attackers threw the grenades and ran into the grounds of Wat Botum and that armed troops blocked pursuers.

Sam Rainsy maintained the attack was carried out by a special unit of the CPP and has long alleged that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has suppressed a report containing information that links the CPP to the attack.

No suspects have ever been identified or arrests made. The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that an investigation is ongoing.


Three months later, forces loyal to then second prime minister Hun Sen and first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh fought bloody street battles in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen’s troops routed the royalists, and in their victory took several high-ranking Funcinpec officials prisoner.

During the July 5 to July 6 fighting, blood was spilled on both sides. But the most notorious incident of violence was the killing of Funcinpec Interior Ministry Secretary of State Ho Sok.

On July 7, Ho Sok was detained by CPP forces after leaving the Singapore ambassador’s residence. While in police custody at the Interior Ministry, he was shot several times at close range in what human rights groups alleged was an execution.

Three Interior Ministry officials were briefly suspended for failing to protect Ho Sok while in custody. Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng later said the identity of the killer was known, but the information was so sensitive that a name could not be released until after the government investigation.

No suspect has been identified or arrests made. The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that an investigation is ongoing.


In February 1999, Cheng Srey Pao, 19, had just moved from Kompong Cham province to Phnom Penh. She had come to the city to work as a waitress and occasional karaoke singing partner when, on the night of Feb 2, three Interior Ministry police officers entered the Mondial Karaoke club on Street 154.

The officers had been drinking heavily and, after exhausting themselves warbling along to Khmer love songs, one of the officers—later identified as San Kimsan—propositioned Cheng Srey Pao.

The young girl told the amorous officer that she was a singer, not a sex worker. The polite refusal delivered, the officer drew a handgun and allegedly shot Cheng Srey Pao through the forehead.

Four months later, the Interior Ministry granted the Phnom Penh Municipal Court permission to charge the officer—only after a personal request by Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua.

San Kimsan had long since disappeared. No one has been arrested.


Piseth Pilika (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

Cambodia’s most famous actress and classical Khmer dancer had her back to the gunman who shot her at point-blank range. It was Tuesday, July 6, 1999. Piseth Pilika was shopping for a bicycle with her 8-year-old niece near the busy Phsar O’Russei.

Piseth Pilika was critically wounded, and her niece was left with a bullet buried in the upper portion of her back. Several days later, Piseth Pilika died on the operating table in Calmette Hospital.

The killing wrenched Cambodian society as allegations emerged that the wife of a high-ranking official ordered the hit in revenge for the actress’ affair with her husband.

The French magazine L’Express implicated Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany. A statement was issued by the prime minister’s Cabinet denying the allegations and threatening legal action against the magazine, which, it turned out, had a relative of opposition leader Sam Rainsy on its staff. The accusations have been branded an opposition ploy to blacken the name of Hun Sen and Bun Rany.

Almost 20 relatives of the slain actress were given asylum in France, where they remain today and continue to allege that Piseth Pilika had an affair with the prime minister.

Though the crime amounted to one of the most high-profile killings in Cambodia’s recent history, no suspects have ever been identified or arrested.

The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that an investigation is ongoing.


On the morning of Dec 5, 1999 Tat Marina was eating rice soup with her 3-year-old niece near Phsar Olympic when she was yanked by the hair and thrown to the ground by two men and an older woman. She was kicked and kneed in the chest until she passed out and was then doused with more than a liter of nitric acid.

Her hair started to curl and became shorter and shorter as it melted. Her skin turned white and began to melt along with her cotton and synthetic nylon clothes.

Weeks later, two handprints—etched by the acid on Tat Marina hands—stood out against the dull rust of a corrugated iron gate. The 10-digit, two-palm impression was left when Tat Marina pushed the gate open in a desperate search for water to wash off the acid.

Tat Marina has been in the US since early 2000 undergoing surgery to rebuild her face.

An arrest warrant was issued for Khoun Sophal, the wife of Svay Sitha, but no arrests have ever been made. A senior police official said Wednesday that the arrest warrant against Khoun Sophal may have been withdrawn. He would give no further details.

Since the beginning of this year, assassin-style attacks in Phnom Penh have taken on a frightening regularity and thoroughly convinced ordinary citizens of the ease with which killers operate and escape unhindered.


In February, 47-year-old Buddhist monk Sam Bunthoeun was gunned down inside Wat Langka. President of the Buddhist Meditation Center in Odong, Sam Bunthoeun was shot twice in the chest by two men on a motorcycle. The Sam Rainsy Party claimed he was in support of monks voting in the July 27 election.

No suspects have been named and no arrests made in the case.


Two weeks later, Om Radsady, a senior adviser to Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was gunned down as he left a busy restaurant near Independence Monument.

Two members of the elite RCAF 911 Paratrooper Commando unit were charged with the killing, and on Monday they were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. They said they killed Om Radsady for his telephone, which they later threw in the Tonle Bassac.

However, inconsistencies in their statements at their trial have left some with the impression the two did not kill the royalist official just for his telephone. Prince Ranariddh and other senior royalists had earlier branded the attack a political assassination.


In April, Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony was shot dead by two gunmen as he prepared to steer his vehicle through a busy intersection on Sihanouk Boulevard. A gunman fired four bullets through the passenger-side window, hitting the judge four times in the torso and hand.

Less than a week later, a 29-year-old Chinese woman was shot dead by gunmen as she drove in her vehicle on a side street off Mao Tse-tung Boulevard. Two men on a motorcycle pulled in front of her vehicle and shot her five times through the vehicle’s side window.

On the morning of Oct 18, gunmen shot dead pro-Funcinpec radio editor and reporter Chuor Chetharith outside his offices in Chamkar Mon district. Two men on a motorcycle carried out the attack. Police have no suspects.

Three days later, on Oct 21, gunmen struck again, shooting three bullets into the face and neck of singer Touch Srey Nich. Her mother was fatally shot as she tried to shield her daughter. Touch Srey Nich is recovering in a Bangkok hospital.

Witnesses saw one gunman and three accomplices traveling on two motorcycles. Police have made no arrests.

Deputy Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov declined on Wednesday to comment on the slew of recent shootings and deferred questions to the Interior Ministry.

The King, however, was not so reticent.

“Of this moment, our country has become a ‘jungle’ (although deforested) populated more and more by ‘wild unknown’ assassins, ‘unfindable’ and naturally, ‘unpunished,’” King Sihanouk wrote in an open letter posted on his Web site.

The King’s letter attacked the country’s assassins, their overlords and the police.

“The compatriots that, in the year 1990 to 2000, you have killed savagely, have not done wrong by belonging to an ‘opposing’ political party or of being liked (it concerns itself of the ladies) by such or such ‘Power,’” the King wrote.

He called on the assassins to change professions, pity their Khmer compatriots and fear ending up in hell.

Overlords of the assassins, the King said, were “Khmers who degrade the Khmer race and your own Fatherland.”

Though they may be placed high in the “national elite” and vaunted by family and supporters, those of you who stand behind assassins must “dare to examine your conscience,” the King wrote.

The police are also engaged in a charade of trying to catch culprits by deploying armed checkpoints throughout the city that ostensibly sow fear in law-abiding citizens, he added.

“I don’t have the ability to give you any order. But I can at least ask you to cease the practice of ‘hypocrisy,’” the King wrote.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that investigations into the 1997 grenade attack are still ongoing and that the government has already cooperated with the FBI on the investigation. The killing of Ho Sok is also open; so too is the killing of Piseth Pilika, the killing of radio journalist Chuor Chetharith and the shooting of Touch Srey Nich.

The killers of Chuor Chetharith were professional killers, but the motive for the attack is still not known, said Khieu Sopheak.

“I can say that the police, even if they haven’t conducted the most perfect duty, but what we have done so far is ensure the social security and the political stability of the nation,” Khieu Sopheak said.

“We are improving our weak points day by day. We lack expertise and modern equipment, but we have our commitment,” he added.

Khieu Sopheak defended the police force against claims that political influence and the powerful were the greatest single barriers to honest and thorough law enforcement investigations.

“People can say that, but the police still have their duty to do their job,” he said.


A voice trained, Then Silenced

By Thet Sambath
The Cambodia Daily

Mouning during the funeral for Touch Srey Nich's mother (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

Three years into the world, Touch Srey Nich began to sing.

Those who knew the young girl at Wat Koh primary school in Phnom Penh said her voice boomed loud and clear, but Touch Srey Nich herself was a small, surpassingly gentle child.

“Touch Srey Nich was my student, and she was a gentle one,” said a former teacher who asked not to be named. “She could sing so loudly. It was good to have this sound, and I trained her to be a good singer in the future.”

But now, the 24-year-old karaoke star can hardly talk. She is receiving treatment in a Bangkok hospital after being shot three times Oct 21 in a mid-morning attack on Monireth Boulevard.

The singer’s mother was killed in the attack and Touch Srey Nich was shot twice in the head and once in the neck. Police have made no arrests and named no suspects.

Touch Srey Nich went through Yukanthor senior high school and kept her diminutive figure, but her voice only grew louder. In recent years she recorded a number of popular songs, some of which she performed for Funcinpec and political advocacy groups such as the Friends of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association.

As Touch Srey Nich brought her talent to politics, her personal life turned stormy, some of her acquaintances said.

“She was so gentle and friendly when she was young, as my pupil,” said Prak Nary Vuth, a teacher at Wat Koh. “When she grew up, something changed. She was not so friendly with others.

“I’m not saying she is not friendly or that she is bad. It was her attitude, and it was how she developed as a human being.”

Regarding how Touch Srey Nich became the target of an apparent hit, speculation is rife. Rumors abound that the attack involved a lover of important standing, but friends and relatives say Touch Srey Nich had no boyfriend and never engaged or married.

“She never had a boyfriend. If she had one, I would know, because I am close to her and her family,” said Seng Phose, Touch Srey Nich’s god-sister.

Others have speculated that the shooting of Touch Srey Nich and her mother was tied to the singer’s political dabblings.

The singer, who gained favor for spurning more flashy clothes to perform in modest, traditional Khmer dress, spent most of her time at her farm in Kien Svay district, Kandal province, Seng Phose said.

Wherever she went in public, Touch Srey Nich was almost always accompanied by a family member, either her mother, father or younger brother, friends said.

“She rarely went for a walk. She had a lot of work to do,” Seng Phose said. Touch Srey Nich also taught literature to seventh-year students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Her colleagues, like many others in Cambodia, say they’ll feel safer if they can know what spurred the daylight attack.

“If the killers are found out, we can be happy and find out what this dark secret is,” said Ieng Sithul, a professor and singer. “I am worried about the artists’ security, because nobody knows who is involved in these stories.”


Saturday & Sunday, January 22-23, 2005

Remembering a fallen leader

By Yun Samean and Wency Leung
The Cambodia Daily

Chea Vichea

On the morning of his murder, Chea Vichea stepped out the door of his Phnom Penh apartment and into the sun.

It was the second day of the Chinese New Year holiday and the streets were quieter than usual.
For nearly two months, the prominent union leader had been house bound, holed up in his second-floor apartment fearing a death threat he received in July 2003.

But in recent months, feeling bolder, Chea Vichea had gone back to his usual routine, frequently traveling alone across town and carrying on his work at the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

This January morning was like any other. Chea Vichea had woken up to watch some television and to feed a breakfast of rice porridge to his 2-year-old daughter, Chea Vechheka, before leaving the apartment.

Around 8:30 am, he received a phone call from his friend and FTU associate, Hok Lim Eang, asking him to join him at a restaurant for breakfast.

Chea Vichea declined the invitation. According to Chea Vichea’s live-in partner, Chea Kimny, who was then seven-months pregnant with his second child, the union leader had wanted to visit his office to pay his staff for the New Year holiday. Before he said good-bye, he took with him $700 to be distributed for their salaries.

That would be the last time Chea Kimny saw him alive.

Dressed in a crisp, white shirt, Chea Vichea hopped on his Viva motorcycle and headed toward his office.

The 40-year-old had suspected on several previous occasions that someone was trailing him. A known instigator of wildcat labor strikes and a strong advocate of the Sam Rainsy Party, Chea Vichea had numerous enemies in the garment industry, the government and even within his own union.

In April 2002, he was beaten by a security guard at a factory while he attempted to distribute fliers urging workers to join a May Day demonstration.

On July 2003, after he helped his friend Sam Rainsy campaign in the national election, he received a message on his mobile phone that called him a dog and read: “I want to kill you.”

Alarmed, the union leader had brought the phone to the Phnom Penh Municipal Penal Police, according to Chea Vichea’s close friend Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association. Upon inspection, the police told him the threat was sent by a “high-ranking” official and that they could do nothing about it. The police advised him to go into hiding,Rong Chhun said.

Around that time, vitriol within the FTU itself had also boiled to the surface. In December 2004, FTU Secretary-General Phourng Montry split from the union after being accused of corruption. Phourng Montry denied the accusations and publicly lambasted Chea Vichea, calling him an “irresponsible leader who didn’t have the ability to control [his] followers.”

Chea Vichea knew someone wanted him dead. In a video testimony made only weeks before his death, Chea Vichea said he knew he was a target of political persecution and that if he were to be killed, an order for his death would have come from the highest powers in the government, according to Sam Rainsy, who would later recover the tape as evidence to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

By January 2004, Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh were, what seemed then, firmly joined in an Alliance of Democrats to oppose the results of the July 2003 national election and were calling for the removal of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the months preceding, the strength of the Alliance had been tested as pro-Funcinpec radio journalist Chuor Chetharith and popular singer Touch Srey Nich—who had recorded music for the royalist party—were shot publicly by unknown gunmen. For Chuor Chetharith, the shooting proved fatal.

The Alliance was shaken by the attacks but, according to Sam Rainsy, still believed it could prevail against the CPP and hold fast to its demands until the CPP gave in to the post-election deadlock.
Sam Rainsy said he had even discussed with Chea Vichea in December 2003 the possibility of securing the union leader a position as the Minister of Labor once the deadlock passed. That was one of the last conversations he recalls having with Chea Vichea.

Interviewed later, friends said that if anyone had followed Chea Vichea as he left the apartment on the morning of Jan 22, 2004, they would likely never know.

It wasn’t until after he was shot dead that neighbors thought to tell Chea Vichea’s brother Chea Mony that they had seen an unfamiliar man on a red Viva motorbike, speaking into a walkie-talkie outside Vichea’s apartment.

Chea Mony, who six months later took over the helm of the FTU, said he did not know whether that man was involved in the crime, but he suspected someone had their eye on his brother even as he left home that day.

A year after Chea Vichea’s death, vendors across from his apartment on Street 360 claimed they remembered little about the union leader, let alone having seen an unfamiliar man with a walkie-talkie on a red Viva motorbike.

Just before 9 am, Chea Vichea visited a newspaper stall run by vendor Var Sothy, on the corner of Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 51.

He regularly read newspapers at Var Sothy’s stall, preferring to stop there since it was close to the FTU office, only a few city blocks away.

Starting from the Khmer-language newspapers, Vichea would peruse through them all, leaving the French-language Cambodge Soir and The Cambodia Daily for last.

It was while he was reading The Cambodia Daily opposite Var Sothy that two men on a Honda motorcycle pulled up outside the stall. The passenger, dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt, dismounted and walked inside.

He fired three shots, hitting Chea Vichea in the head, in the chest and in his left arm.

The shots killed him instantly. In the days and months afterward, his supporters, friends and international observers would decry the killing as a politically motivated attack; Chea Kimny and the couple’s two children would find asylum in Finland; Chea Mony would reclaim from police his brother’s possessions from the crime scene—minus the $700; and the police would arrest two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun—both of whom left many unconvinced they were the true
perpetrators of the crime.

Shortly after his arrest, and after first pleading his innocence, suspect Born Samnang told reporters he was hired to kill Chea Vichea for a payment of $5,000. Weeks later, Born Samnang’s girlfriend Vieng Thi Hong and her mother gave reporters a different account, saying Born Samnang had been
with them in Village 6, Prey Veng province, the day of Chea Vichea’s death.

A year later, little light has been shed on the case.

Those closest to Chea Vichea maintain the government was behind his death, though they do not know who placed the order.

Chea Mony, Rong Chhun and Sam Rainsy continue to believe he was killed to intimidate members of the Alliance of Democrats into ending the political deadlock with the CPP.

On this point, Chea Mony is adamant. “If the government was not responsible, the authorities would have found the true killers by now,” he said.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun remain in prison, awaiting trial, nearly a full year after their arrest.
Newspaper vendor Var Sothy, who spoke publicly about what she had witnessed on the day of the shooting, declined this week to speak about what she had seen.

Asked if she had been threatened into silence, she answered curtly: “If you know about politics in Cambodia, you would understand.” And despite their insistence that they have caught Chea Vichea’s killers, the authorities have yet to reveal who may have hired them to carry out the shooting.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak acknowledged this week that the police have all but forgotten the mastermind behind the killing. “After the arrest of the two suspects, it seems we lost track of who was behind the killing,” he said.


Anonymous said...

Thank you KI-Media team. Keep up the good work! May all of our passed-away, love ones rest in peace!


Anonymous said...

The tear drop by Cambodian people cause by Mr. HUN SEN and his wife will be paid back with the same tear drop in the same way.


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Knhom pibak niyeay nass pruoss neang Tat Marina york bdei ke. Srey khmer taing orss min sokh chett rumlek besdong oy neak na loeuy.
Niss Chea roeurng bokkul

Anonymous said...

Ber Bokkul nah hean brobrit omper breypsai,bukkul nouse throv brochor mouk nung chbab.Ponthae knhom choeur tha srok khmer kmean chbab thei. Chbab mean pel na hun sen kort joumtheal.

Anonymous said...

Ther srey khmer thang oss ach thoub chet bdey naek min oy mean krao ban thei? Ther naek ach chong chet roboss kei ban thei? Ber naek ach chong cherng kei ban,pothei naek min ach chong chet kei ban thei. Bun Rany kour nass banh Hun Sen vinh therb throv. Khun Sopal kour nass cheass theuk acid dak bdei roboss klourn therb thrao. Bonthorb pi Khun Sopal cheas theuk acid dak ler kei heoy, ther ach min oy Svay Sitha mean srey theat thei? Ey lov Ah kontheur Svay Sitha deuk srey nand lan thao bar mdom Prak Leab rorl reathrey.

Anonymous said...

Piseth Pilika kor yok bdei ke.