Violent attacks using grenades or fire arms are not uncommon in Cambodian often
in response to minor or even imagined slights. The ramifications for victims
families are far-reaching. Anette Marcher and Bou Saroeun looked
further than the statistics and followed the aftermath of one such attack.
Sok Sothea weeps over the body of his mother, Meas Thy, whom he found lying dead from a grenade attack as he arrived home from university.
AT this year's Pchum Ben, 23-year-old Sok Sothea had one more dead
relative to honor.
Around 8:30 pm on September 19, a grenade explosion
rocked the corner of Streets 19 and 178 in central Phnom Penh, killing five
people and injuring another eight.
The grenade was bowled by two men
riding past on a motorbike, according to witnesses.
bread seller Meas Thy, 46, was pushing her sales cart past the corner when the
blast went off. She died almost instantly from the shrapnel
Sitting in the living room of his family's very modest wooden
house not far from the site of the explosion, Sothea struggles to recount the
random outrage that has left him and his family in despair. His eyes are filled
with pain and grief. His voice trembles slightly and he repeatedly bows his
shaven head, fighting back the tears.
"I came home from university around
8:45 and saw that there had been an accident. At first I didn't believe that
anything had happened to my mother," says Sothea.
That is all he can bear
to say about what he experienced that night.
Sothea at his mother's funeral at Wat Ounalom.
But what Sothea found in the
turmoil of a chaotic crowd and ambulances carrying away bloodsoaked victims was
his mother lying dead on the road beside her sales cart, and his younger sister
being led away, hysterical with shock.
The sister, Sok Theary, 16, had
been walking next to her mother, helping her push the cart. She saw the grenade
roll across the road, and yelled to her mother to dive out of the way and
protect herself. Her warning was not enough to avoid disaster.
and his family, the death of their mother threatens to end their efforts at
education and advancement.
Sothea's father works as a photographer in the
public parks of Phnom Penh; his mother was also a major breadwinner for the
family. She labored tirelessly to earn enough money to give both of her children
a good education to help them escape the poverty trap.
"My mother loved
me very much," said Sothea. "All my life since I was little she worked hard so
that I could have a good education and get a good job."
For three years
Sothea has studied computer science at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He is
18 months away from graduation - but that goal is now in jeopardy as his
mother's death has reduced the family to subsistence.
"I have to find a
job so I can help pay for my sister's education. My mother would have wanted me
to finish my studies, but it will be very difficult to find money. Everything
always depended on my mother," Sothea says.
Facing an uncertain future,
Sothea joins the long ranks of Cambodians who have lost friends or relatives to
Last year police cracked down on weapons, collecting
some 6,000 illegally owned pistols, machine guns, rockets and grenades -
believed to be only fraction of the number in the community.
government officials pride themselves on the improved security situation, and a
massive sculpture of a gun with its barrel tied in a knot near the Japanese
bridge supposedly symbolises the new times of peace and safety.
reality, gunshots are still heard in the streets of Phnom Penh and there seems
to be no hesitation to pull the trigger. During the month of August alone, the
Post's Police Blotter counted 14 people dead and 17 injured in incidents ranging
from personal revenge, business disputes and robberies. Another five people were
kidnapped but already in September those numbers have been pushed up - possibly
due to a seasonal upswing in robberies close to important holidays and
Phnom Penh municipal police are still investigating the
explosion that killed Sothea's mother, and hope to announce a conclusion after
Initially, officials speculated that the attack was caused by
either a jealousy spat connected to a 20-year-old woman, who was making a
telephone call on the corner at the time of the attack, or a business dispute
involving the operator of the phone booth. Both died in the
However, other vendors around the intersection are not
"We were having dinner," said one woman from a restaurant and
drinks shop directly across the street from the now empty corner. "When the
explosion happened we ran into the back of the house. When we came out again we
saw that there had been an accident."
"I knew both the girl who was
killed in the phone booth and the man who operates it. And it makes no sense
that the attack should have anything to do with them."
vendor on the opposite corner said she had heard nothing about a dispute before
it was mentioned in radio and newspaper reports about the attack.
Sothea nothing at all makes any sense. He wonders if the attack was directed at
his mother. Just before the grenade went off, a car made a turn and blocked the
way of the bread cart. But then again, he doesn't really believe that
"I don't know why anybody would want to kill my mother," he says