Conflicting stories surround the death of a Cambodian fisherman in waters off Kampot province on Sunday night.
A witness says he was brutally murdered by a Vietnamese crew following tensions over illegal fishing, but Cambodian authorities insist he drowned in an accident.
Ethnic Cham fisherman Dol Nai Yub, 42, was buried yesterday in Daun Thnuat village, a day after he set out to sea with Nos Youk, 43, the owner of the small fishing boat, at about 4pm.
According to Youk, the pair was confronted by about five Vietnamese fishing vessels at around 7:50pm, which rammed their boat, causing Nai Yub, his assistant, to fall overboard.
Youk said the Vietnamese – upset over recent attempts by Cambodian fishermen to corral them out of the Kingdom’s waters – continued to try and ram his vessel, stopping him from helping his friend, who, he said, was then “arrested” by one of the crews, beaten and stabbed to death.
It was only with the help of other Cambodian vessels that Youk said he was able to escape his pursuers, who then threw Nai Yub back into the water before radioing the Cambodians to “come and take your friend’s body”, leaving a sign to mark its location.
“We are so sorry that we could not help Nai Yub. We saw those Vietnamese fishermen beat him because it was bright on their boat,” Youk said.
However, speaking yesterday, Kampot Governor Khoy Khun Huor and provincial police chief Plang Phirin denied Nai Yub was murdered, saying he couldn’t swim and died after an accidental collision between his vessel and a Vietnamese boat.
Khun Huor appealed for calm while an investigation was carried out.
Phirin said he had examined the body and found no signs of injuries.
“It is not right; no one beat him to death.
He fell into the water by himself and died by drowning, and no one could help him because it was too dark,” Phirin said.
The victim’s brother-in-law, the village chief, another fisherman and the head of the local mosque, however, all confirmed seeing bruises and stab wounds on the victim’s body.
“There was a hole in my brother’s chest; they used a sharp thing to stab him, beat him on other parts and then threw him into the water. It was very cruel,” Sam Sman, 54, the victim’s brother-in-law, said.
Youk said tension had recently risen between Cambodian and Vietnamese fisherman, who were regularly crossing into waters near Kampot to fish illegally.
He alleged they had bribed the Cambodian authorities to use illegal techniques, such as trawling nets.
The Ministry of Defence could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A representative of the Vietnamese Embassy hung up before answering questions.