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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Car-chase diplomat in family tragedy

Car-chase diplomat in family tragedy

A tragic incident involving French Embassy press attache Gerard Bouan resulted in five deaths of innocent bystanders including one young child who was killed by gunfire from rogue soldiers who had been chasing and shooting at Bouan during a 20 km chase on Route 5.

Bouan allegedly held him up in front of the gunfire of rogue soldiers. However, it is not known if the boy was still alive at the time.

Moments earlier Bouan's Embassy landcruiser overturned and killed the boy's parents, brother and an unborn sibling as the press attaché fought to escape the gunmen.

Bouan's life was spared by the gang and he has now left the country, the Post has learned.

But a secret deal to give $10,000 for the raising of the two girls in the family who survived the crash has left more bitterness. Their shattered grandmother, says the money is not enough.

The tragic events began on July 24 with Bouan dinning at the picturesque Prek Kdam restaurant 40 km north of Phnom Penh.

Bouan, who was traveling alone, left the restaurant and was subsequently chased and fired upon by the rogue soldiers for over 20 km, before he mysteriously did a u-turn driving straight past the gun-happy bandits.

Bouan subsequently hit a tree and deflected into the motorcycle with the family of five on it. He jumped out of his overturned landcruiser and picked up 5-year-old Sao Sak while the rogue soldiers were firing bullets at the press attaché's feet and just above his head.

Bouan then moved the child between himself and the bullets, "placing the child in front of the danger", according to witnesses. They suspect Sao Sak subsequently died while in Bouan's arms from bullets which ricocheted off the ground.

The main protagonist soldier, Colonel Ra, then loosed another two rifle loads of ammunition near Bouan and was only stopped by his wife from killing the press attaché.

Bouan then dashed back to his landcruiser to get his briefcase while the bandits continued firing near him. The rogue soldiers were then forced to flee the scene by the approaching government military.

The French Embassy initially did not report the incident, or the soldiers' banditry-which violates normal diplomatic procedure according to both embassy and NGO sources.

When asked by the Post two days after the incident if a French man had been shot at by soldiers, the Embassy said: "We have no information on this, but we will give you any information if it comes to hand." The Embassy has since admitted the incident did occur.

The orphans' 55-year-old grandmother Sok Seng told the Post Bouan entered a secret contract with her, dated July 30, where he agreed to pay $10,000 for the raising of the orphans-and also so she would "not deposit a complaint about the accident", according to the contract's wording.

She said: "I asked for $20,000 but Bouan told me $10,000 was all he had. He also told me not to show the contract to anyone, to keep the agreement confidential."

The soldiers who chased Bouan have not been apprehended, according to police investigating the case.

The vice inspector of the Milay District Police in charge of investigating the case, 38-year-old Boun Sun Heng , added that there were no plans to pursue Bouan for a larger settlement, or to investigate a possible manslaughter charge against him.

After leaving the Prek Kdam restaurant at about 2pm, Heng says he does not know exactly where the rogue soldiers (driving in a red Camry and white car) began chasing Bouan, but it was fairly soon after he left the restaurant.

"Their apparent motive for chasing Bouan was because his car scraped the side of the soldiers' car and he did not stop, according to the soldiers. But Bouan told me they were trying to rob him."

At about 2:30pm the car chase passed Wat Tep Rainsy, 18 km from Phnom Penh.

Sar How, who owns a house near Tep Rainsy, described the accident which saw Bouan's car crash in front his house.

He said: "I saw the French car speed past my house heading towards Phnom Penh followed by two cars: one red, the other white. The two cars were shooting bullets into the air and at the French car.

"Then a short while later the French car returned. The side of the car hit a tree and deflected onto the other side of the road hitting a motorcycle with a family of five on it.

"The husband was driving the motorcycle with a small child in front of him. The mother was next to the father, and two children [Sao Sak and Sao Phan] were on the back."

"The French car turned over and came to a stop in front of my house.

"The two cars with soldiers in it then returned, and four men got out...They began firing bullets into the ground and in the air near the French man. The French man got out of the car and picked up one of the children [Sao Sak] who was in the accident.

"The French man turned towards the soldiers with the child out in front of him. I would not have done that. When you see danger you should protect the child and not put him in front of the danger, even if the child is not your own, because the child is innocent.

"He carried the child several meters and then squatted with the child in his arms. A soldier was in front of Bouan and firing at his legs. I then saw the French man fall backwards. After that he placed the child on the ground."

Sar How said he did not know when Sao Sak died but another roadside villager 32-year-old Sun Samat said it was when Bouan fell backwards that he suspected the child got a bullet killing him.

Samat said: "The child was still moving when the French man picked him up. I saw the French man then squat with the child while soldiers were shooting at his feet.

"The French man fell backwards I think because a bullet ricocheted off the ground into the child. Then Bouan put the child on the ground. The child lay motionless."

Sar How continued: "After the child was put on the ground a soldier [Colonel Ra] kept firing into the ground near the French man. Then when [Colonel Ra] ran out of ammunition he hit the French man on the back of the head with the butt of the rifle a few times."

"Then the French man grabbed [Colonel Ra] and they wrestled for a bit. Then [Colonel Ra's] friend [another soldier from the red Camry] handed him another gun and he began firing near the French man.

"Then the French man knelt on the ground with his hands in the air. Then a woman, who I think was [Colonel Ra's] wife called out to him: "Ra, Ra, don't kill him, don't kill him, he's a foreigner".

"She told the soldiers to leave quickly because government military were approaching..."

The victims are: 33-year-old mother, Chhen Phat, her 7-month-old fetus and her 3-year-old son Sao Sarn, her 5-year-old son Sao Sak, and her 45-year-old husband RCAF Captain Kain Sao who died in Calmette hospital at 2am on July 25 according to Koh Santipheap newspaper who reported the story on July 27.

The surviving orphans are 12-year-old Sao Phaul, who was at home during the accident, and 10-year-old Sao Phao who received only minor injuries in the accident.

The orphans' grandfather when interviewed by the Post said that of the $10,000 settlement, $600 went to meet funeral expenses and $2,400 would be spent raising the children until they are married, and $7,000 would be given to the children when they reach adulthood.

The grandmother whose only income comes from desert selling said: "When I heard the news about the accident I was at home with Sao Phaul. I fainted. I have a bit of a heart condition and ever since the accident I haven't been feeling well.

"I am not happy with the settlement, but according to my religion I am not to be angry with the French man. But I wish he would pay for the upbringing of the two girls until they are married.

"When I talked to the French man [at the Embassy on July 30] he asked me not to deposit a complaint against him because it would only cost more money in procedures.

"Even though the French man has gone home, could you please ask the embassy for more money to raise the children."

The contract between Sok Seng and Bouan dated July 30 says: "Contract between Sok Seng and Gerald Bouan. There was an accident involving Mr Bouan and by the present document Sok Seng agrees to not deposit a complaint. The police district was asked to give back the motorcycle that was involved in the accident."

At the bottom of the document is Sok Seng's thumb prints and signatures, and Gerald Bouan's thumb print and initials.

There is no mention of the $10,000 payment in the contract, but Sok Seng said she agreed to sign the document after Bouan offered her the $10,000.



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