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Mob justice in Kandal

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Family members mourn Lounh Lon’s untimely death after he was killed, allegedly by a man who wished to marry his daughter, yesterday in Kandal’s Roka commune. Pha Lina

Mob justice in Kandal

By yesterday morning, two bodies had bled out on the dirt in a Kandal village, the bloody aftermath of Cambodia’s latest chilling incident of mob violence, this time in Kandal Stung district’s Roka commune.

And though both men were murdered, seemingly no one will face a court, with police apparently willing to place responsibility on a mob mentality.

The first man, Lounh Lon, 62, was a father to seven daughters who rebuffed the persistent requests of one suitor, Suon Ottara, 35, who was seeking to marry one of them. At 10pm on Sunday, Ottara allegedly hacked Lon to death as he lay sleeping in a hammock next to his wife, Wor Rey, 60, and their 10-year-old grandson.

Ottara attacked Lon’s head and hands, and twisted a blade into his heart, before also attacking Rey. Her injuries – a partly severed ear and cuts to her neck, shoulder and stomach – required emergency surgery at Phnom Penh’s Preah Kossamak Hospital yesterday.

Hearing cries for help, 30 to 40 people – around half the village – converged on the scene. In the words of Men Chanrith, Kandal Stung district police chief, “the people made a trial for him”. “Villagers took action against him and he was killed.”

After surrounding Ottara, who had holed himself up in a room, the villagers pelted him with rocks and hurled hot water into the room to force him out. The siege continued until around 3:30am, when Ottara was dragged out and beaten with fists, rocks and wooden sticks until he died.

Standing where the suspect was killed, one of Lon’s daughters, Lounh Rattana, defended the actions of the crowd. “We are upset,” Rattana said, her face red from crying. “My father was in so much suffering when he died. The suspect deserved this because he was very brutal.”

For Rattana, Ottara’s fate is a “better justice” than that afforded by the courts.

“It is better that he dies by the villagers’ hands, rather than going to court, because my father is already dead and maybe [Ottara] would not have spared other people if he survived,” she said. “This is a life exchanged for a life, not exchanging a life for jail.”

At hospital with their mother, another daughter, Lon Souna, said she was shocked when she heard of her father’s death, but somewhat relieved to hear his alleged murderer had been killed.

“I am not angry any more. It is finished,” she said.

Their views were shared by the overwhelming majority of villagers The Post spoke with yesterday. Though many asserted the killing was the right thing to do, they were also unwilling to put their names to their claims.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Community members drag the body of suspected murderer Suon Ottara across a pond to be picked up by his relatives yesterday in Kandal province. Erin Handley

“The whole family could have been killed. He must die,” said one woman, rocking her child in a hammock. “[The villagers did] nothing wrong. If we do not kill him, and he kills the whole family, who is responsible for this? It depends on whether we are going to let the man continue to torture and kill again.”

Another, explaining the villagers were fuelled by anger, agreed the killing was necessary to prevent further carnage. One villager, glancing sideways at reporters, softly suggested that Ottara had not been killed, but instead had committed suicide.

But the police response to the incident remains in question. Though police officer Veatep Sovan said that authorities did not arrive on scene until after Ottara had already passed away, his superior, commune police chief Men Sitha, declined to provide an official comment yesterday.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Body of the alleged murder suspect Suon Ottara, lay on the side of a pond for hours before his relatives came to claim it. Pha Lina

“Just write what the villagers said,” Sitha said. Yet villagers gave contradictory accounts, with some suggesting police were present during the siege, while others said they showed up only after the
suspect was killed. Both scenarios, however, raise questions: If there, why not intervene? And if they weren’t present, why not?

For Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy at right’s group Licadho, mob violence is often a result of the failure of authorities to mete out justice. “The tragedy in this village . . . is yet another sad example of people using extreme violence due to the lack of trust towards the police and the courts,” she said.

Ngov An, Roka village chief, said his community would miss the “gentlemanly and friendly” Lon, and hinted that there was safety in numbers for those who had taken justice into their own hands. Even if police or the courts wanted to punish the villagers, singling them out would be no easy task.

“Although I was there, I cannot point out who is who . . . because there were too many people and so you cannot arrest anybody,” An said. “I cannot stop them because they would not listen to me, and there were about 30 to 40 villagers.”

Provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun said police would make a report and send it to the court, leaving it to a judge to decide whether to pursue legal action against the villagers.

While Lon’s body lay buried in soft pink blankets as his family wept and prepared a funerary pyre, Ottara’s body, swathed in clear plastic, was taken and dumped in a field.

Authorities planned to bury him there, to the chagrin of residents; they feared the circumstances of his death might prompt his ghost to lash out, and the plot was close to a road where children travelled back and forth from school every day.

With rope, two men dragged his corpse across a small pond to the water’s edge, where the body laid for hours until relatives arrived to collect it. Blood seeped from the plastic sheath, mingling with the muddy water.

Without a word, Ottara’s family stepped out of an ambulance, burned small sticks of incense, and took him away.

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