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Acid attack claims life

A man refills a battery with acid
A man refills a battery with acid yesterday in Phnom Penh. Cambodia recorded its first acid-related death since December 2012 on Saturday after a victim passed away from her injuries. Pha Lina

Acid attack claims life

A 20-year-old woman who suffered serious burns earlier this month after being doused with acid passed away on Saturday, marking the first reported acid-attack fatality in Cambodia since 2012.

On March 6, security guard Meas Vanny was walking from her rented room to begin a shift at Por Sen Chey district’s Ho Hsin Tai shoe factory, when 40-year-old Sroeun Nann approached her on a motorbike and asked her where she worked.

When Vanny replied, Nann doused her with the toxic substance.

The attack – the first of 2015 – allegedly happened because Nann believed that Vanny was having an affair with her husband, who also worked at the factory.

Nann, who has confessed to the attack, has been charged with attempted murder and is currently being held in pre-trial detention in the capital’s Prey Sar prison.

In an interview at Calmette Hospital earlier this month as she prepared to undergo surgery, Vanny said she had “no hope” that she would survive her injuries.

“My skin hurts and feels sticky. I cannot see out of my right eye, and my left eye can see but not clearly. It is very painful.”

Vanny’s body was cremated yesterday in a traditional ceremony in her hometown in Pursat province.

Her brother, Meas Rattanak, spoke of the family’s devastation. “We’re missing a good member of our family; she used to help us, she was a good sister. We are suffering from losing her,” he said.

“The suspect accused my sister of having an affair with her husband, but she would not have done that. My sister did not know whether the man that she had fallen in love with had divorced already or not,” he added.

Dr Keo Vanna, who has described Vanny’s injuries as the worst he has ever operated on, said he was not authorised by Calmette Hospital to comment on the cause of Vanny’s death.

Rattanak said the death certificate cites “heart failure”.

According to fatalities recorded by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC), the last time someone died from an attack was in December 2012.

Three fatalities were recorded by the group in 2013, but were attributed to suicide and the accidental consumption of acid. No deaths were recorded in 2014.

In January 2012, the government passed a law on acid attacks, which was followed a year later by a sub-decree regulating the sale of acid.

Seeing a dramatic decline in attacks, CASC has since rolled back its operations.

But Erin Bourgois, former CASC project manager, said Vanny’s death is evidence that the sub-decree is being weakly enforced.

“I find it very concerning that the past two victims of acid attacks … have suffered 40 per cent or more burns on their bodies, indicating that the perpetrators were able to procure a larger quantity of acid,” she explained.

“To prevent further acid attacks and harm, the sub-decree needs to be properly enforced by the [government] so acid does not get in the wrong hands.”

Acid vendors interviewed by the Post yesterday said they took measures to regulate the sale of the potentially lethal substance, but acknowledged that it can still be easily procured at other shops.

Khem Khemrith, who sells large quantities of strong acid from his shop next to O’Russei market, said he has built up relationships with long-term customers, so doesn’t need to check ID or ask why they need the substance.

But, he said, if new customers come, he takes such precautions.

“I understand the risks,” he said. “Other vendors aren’t as careful; I want to say they should be.”

On Monivong Boulevard, a vendor who asked not to be named said that she now only sells diluted acid after having “many problems”.

One night, she explained, a woman came to her shop after hours trying to buy strong acid.

“I asked her why she wanted it, and she said she wanted it to attack her husband who was having an affair. I would not sell it to her.”

She added that she has heard of other shops that will sell strong acid without asking any questions.

Contacted yesterday, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman at the Interior Ministry – one of the bodies charged with implementing the decree – could not explain what was being done to enforce it.

“I don’t have information,” he said, before hanging up the phone.


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