When Seng Roatthy went to buy cigarettes at a stall near his family’s home in Prey Veng province on Aug. 7, he couldn’t have known that the short walk would end with a brutal mob beating that cost him his life.
Though six men were charged with killing the 33-year-old laborer, Seng Roatthy’s pregnant wife told Radio Free Asia’s Khmer service that the arrests are short-changing justice.
“I would like the police to arrest more of the people involved,” said Chan Sina. “I’m not satisfied with the few people arrested so far."
It’s unclear what exactly triggered the beating, but according to Chan Sina, it started when a Vietnamese man asked Seng Roatthy for a cigarette and he refused.
“The Vietnamese man then punched him in the face,” Chan Sina told RFA.
As he fled, the attacker threw a crowbar at Seng Roatthy who threw it back, Chan Sina recalled to RFA.
Another Vietnamese man came upon the scene and ended up in a nearby drainage ditch, where he called out to friends to press a “stormy” attack on Seng Roatthy. A “stormy” attack is a Khmer Rouge term used for an offensive action.
According to accounts by Chan Sina and witnesses, she and her husband were boxed in by a Vietnamese mob armed with wooden planks, crowbars, hammers, and axes.
“Those who were beating my husband said there was no need for me to try to rescue him, as they would just beat him to death anyway,” she recalled. “While my husband was lying near death, I begged them to stop beating him.”
They didn’t listen, she said.
“I was trying to rescue my husband, but they continued beating him and broke his left leg. I was also hurt,” she said. “Then Suy [a Vietnamese construction supervisor] came and ordered the mob to finish us off. He said that if they let us live they would have to pay more compensation than if we were dead.”
'I was afraid'
A witness who saw the attack told RFA that a group of a few hundred Vietnamese nationals were responsible.
He and other Khmers in Neak Loeung Village didn’t step in to help because they were afraid the mob would turn on them. A large community of Vietnamese immigrants live in the village.
“I was afraid to help the victims because I was scared by the huge crowd of a few hundred attackers who were armed with wooden planks and nail pullers and other objects,” Bin Toeng explained. “I saw the couple being beaten badly.”
Chan Sina told RFA that she feared the men would attack other Khmer people unless they were jailed for a long time
“I want them to be locked behind bars forever," she said. "If they walk free again they would kill more Khmer people”.
District police chief Seng Punlork told RFA that the case was forwarded to the court on Aug. 10 for further judicial action.
Among the six suspects arrested only Chrin Barang, 36, and Den Vireak, 28, who are Cambodian, and Suy, have been identified. Suy’s age and any other names he uses were not immediately available.
The relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam is a fraught one. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, overthrew the Khmer Rouge and occupied the country.
The occupation ended with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, but distrust of the Vietnamese is still a potent force in Cambodia. Opposition politicians often criticize Prime Minister Hun Sen as being a puppet for Hanoi.
Seng Punlork said the case is still open as authorities are searching for more of the people involved. Regarding the family’s personal safety and security, he told RFA that he gave the family a police contact number so that they can call for help.
While the police say their investigation is continuing, Chan Sina said she holds out little hope and is in desperate straits.
Chan Sina said she not only wants justice for Seng Roatthy, but is also asking the court to order the perpetrators to pay her $100,000 as a form of civil reparation.
“I am helpless. I’m all by myself. My late husband was the great supporter of the family,” she said. “My kids and I are very desperate without him. If it were not for my kids, I would have no will to live anymore.”
Reported by Thai Tha for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.