PHNOM PENH—A Khmer-American man has confessed to pouring gasoline on his fiancée and her sister and burning them at their home in Cambodia’s northwestern Battambang province, authorities here say, amid what the government describes as a worsening pattern of violence against women.
Tan Nilong, 56, who lives in Auckland, California, admitted in Battambang Court on Nov. 25 that he attempted to burn 21-year-old Yan Kimhean to death because she had broken off their engagement.
Tan Sophal, chief of provincial military police, said that the evidence found at Yan’s home in the Baek Chan village of Prek Preah Sdach commune was consistent with the admission.
“This is a case of jealousy…evidence left at the scene of the crime consists of a bag, a slightly-burnt [five liter] jerry can, and a small knife,” Tan said.
The victim’s family has filed a complaint demanding U.S.$250,000 in compensation and medical treatment for both of the young women injured in the attack.
Khmer officials said the U.S. Embassy had agreed that Tan should be tried under Cambodian law because he hadn’t yet completed the U.S. naturalization process.
‘I saw the face clearly’
Tan Nilong was engaged to Yan Kimhean on June 29 but Yan broke off the engagement in November, saying she no longer trusted her fiancé, relatives said.
The victims’ mother, Pin Sarath, said in an interview that her two daughters, Yan Kimhean and Yan Chanrith, 14, were washing dishes behind their home on the evening of Nov. 22 when Tan Nilong attacked them.
“They [the daughters] asked for the engagement [with Yan Kimhean] to be ended. He said all right and then he drove a motorcycle away,” Pin said. “No one expected he would do such a thing. My daughters were washing the dishes at the back of the house. He poured gasoline on them and burnt them.”
Yan Chanrith, whose arms and legs were burned in the incident, said she had no doubt that it was Tan who had attacked them.
“I was washing the dishes with my older sister when Ta [Grandfather] Long [Tan Nilong] walked toward us and started to douse us with gasoline. I stood up and saw his face clearly—it was that Long who poured the gasoline and burnt us,” she said.
The victims were sent to Visal Sokh Hospital in Battambang and on the morning of Nov. 23 were transferred to Phnom Penh for further medical treatment. Yan Kimhean suffered serious burns over most of her body.
Tan Nilong’s confession came as the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs issued a new report Wednesday that says abuse against women and girls is escalating in Cambodia.
The Cambodian Gender Assessment Survey 2008 reported that nearly one-quarter of all females in Cambodia have suffered domestic violence, with young girls increasingly a target of sexual assault.
Increasing use of drugs and alcohol by men has increased attacks, including gang rape, against female Cambodians, the report said, calling on law enforcement agencies to redouble their efforts to combat them.
Still, Minister of Women's Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi cited some progress in combating violence against women.
The government “has taken significant steps to reduce violence against women,” she said in a statement, alluding to laws against domestic abuse and official benchmarks on violence and human trafficking.
The government released its report on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Rape is a criminal offense and punishable by a prison sentence of between five and 10 years, according to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) law.
The nonprofit group ADHOC [the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association] said that between January and October it received 1,017 complaints regarding violence against women and children.
These included 584 concerning domestic violence, 368 concerning rape, and 65 complaints related to human trafficking.
Lim Mony, head of the ADHOC working group, said that according to the reports and complaints she has received, violence against women in Cambodia is on the rise.
“We find the major problems to include a lack of proper law enforcement, a lack of awareness [of the laws] by the Khmer people, and poverty conditions,” Lim Mony said.
Chhay Kimsor, of the Gender and Development for Cambodia project, said his group this week launched a campaign through Dec. 10 targeting four provinces—Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Kompong Chhnang, and Prey Veng.
“We’ll have roundtable discussions on TV, radio talk shows, public meetings, and marches to distribute ribbons, leaflets, stickers, posters, and banners,” he said.
Original reporting by Sophal Mony, Ma Yarith, Um Sarin, and Keo Nimol for RFA’s Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.