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Chea Ratha acquitted of charges in acid attack

Chea Ratha acquitted of charges in acid attack

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Chea Ratha was acquitted Monday of charges stemming from an acid attack.

Easy access to acid fuels attacks: group

Regulating the sale of acid in Cambodia is the only way to prevent further attacks, the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) said on Monday. Speaking to the Post, CASC programme manager Sophea Chhun said the low cost and widespread availability of acid must be addressed. “There are no proper regulations. Anyone can buy it, and the bottles do not warn that the contents are dangerous. The government should limit the sale of acid to industries, such as rubber production, that rely on it, and ensure people are educated about its dangers.” Of the survivors registered with CASC, 18 percent were burned in accidents; 16 percent
were the victims of jealous partners and 9 percent were attacked for having extramarital affairs. A further 4 percent were attacked after family arguments, 2 percent in business disputes and 2 percent during robberies or land disputes. The remainder did not know why they had been targeted. “In addition to dealing with their physical injuries, which can be extensive, survivors also have to face the stigma,” Sophea Chhun said. “People tend to blame the victims, even if what happened to them was an accident. Onlookers will point at them and laugh, saying they deserved it.” The government could not be reached for comment on Monday.

A FORMER high-ranking military police official was acquitted in absentia on Monday of charges stemming from an acid attack near Tuol Tumpong market that left a Phnom Penh woman scarred for life.

Chea Ratha, former deputy chief of staff of the National Military Police, was tried in connection with the May 2008 incident. The victim was the aunt of In Soklyda, a prominent beauty pageant contestant who had a love affair with Chea Ratha, who had previously admitted to the affair but denied any involvement in the attack.

The verdict, delivered by Judge Din Sivuthy at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, cleared the 43-year-old Chea Ratha and her co-defendants - Ea Puthea, Meas Mao, Siek Chandy, Chan Dara, San Nuth and Siek Sophal - of all charges. Only two of the accused, Ea Puthea and Siek Sophal, were present to hear the verdict. Chea Ratha is currently abroad but will return to Cambodia soon, her lawyer said.

Speaking outside the court, the victim - Ya Soknim, 35 - condemned the court's decision and made a fresh call for justice. Visibly distressed, she said her family was living in fear and issued a plea to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene. "There is no justice in this world," she said. "I fear for my family's safety and need [an NGO] to give us shelter."

Ya Soknim's lawyer, Ouch Sophal, said he regretted the verdict and described it as an injustice. "If there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction, why were they arrested?" he said to reporters.

The judge said anyone disagreeing with the verdict had one month to file a complaint to the Court of Appeal. Asked whether his client would appeal, Ouch Sophal said he did not yet know. In May 2008, the government rescinded Chea Ratha's passport and removed her from all official positions pending her arrest.

Speaking outside the court on Monday, Chea Ratha's lawyer, Keo Ya, urged the government to reinstate her.

"My client's position [with the National Military Police] was terminated when she was accused," he told reporters.

"I would like to request that the government restore her to her previous position."

Am Sam Ath, head of an investigative team with the rights group Licadho, said the courts had a duty to reinvestigate the case.

"If [the court] has exonerated the defendants, the authorities should re-investigate the case and arrest the real offenders," he said.
"If the courts fail to do so, it is a clear case of impunity because the attackers have been allowed to go free."

The daylight attack took place on May 8, 2008, near Tuol Tumpong market.

Ya Soknim was allegedly grabbed by two men who held her down and poured acid over her head and chest.
She suffered extensive burns as a result, losing one ear, one breast and most of her vision.

Shortly after the attack, Interpol joined the hunt for Chea Ratha, who was known to have been having a sexual relationship with the victim's niece.
The international police agency issued a "red notice" for her arrest, allowing foreign countries that have extradition agreements with Cambodia to arrest her and send her back to Phnom Penh.

Chea Ratha was never arrested, however, and is believed to have remained abroad since fleeing Cambodia after the attack took place.

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