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New centre for mentally ill planned in wake of Prey Speu mass escape

A man (centre right) and 13-year-old Chork Samnang (centre left) stand in the middle of a street earlier this month after they escaped from Prey Speu centre. Photo supplied
A man (centre right) and 13-year-old Chork Samnang (centre left) stand in the middle of a street earlier this month after they escaped from Prey Speu centre. Photo supplied

New centre for mentally ill planned in wake of Prey Speu mass escape

After a mass escape of 70 inmates from the notorious Prey Speu centre on Sunday, the government said they would take mentally ill people rounded up off the streets and house them on the same site as a Kandal orphanage.

Chaom Chao commune police chief Heng Kosal said yesterday that the inmates fled the centre, but 10 guards chased after them. Eighteen people had still not been recaptured by the centre staff.

The news comes one month after Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded the Ministry of Social Affairs and Phnom Penh Municipal authorities either fix the centre for the city’s homeless and “undesirables”, or close it.

Among the escapees was 13-year-old Chork Samnang, who was found by local villagers with blood on his chest.

“We asked the guards if they hit the boy or not; the guards said they did not hit him. But because they were trying to chase them, he fell down; but the villagers said they suspected the guard may have hit the boy,” Kosal said.

He added Samnang did not file a complaint and only wanted to return home.

After an official visit last month, municipal and government authorities resolved to address a number of the centre’s significant failings, including lack of sleeping areas, support for the mentally ill, electricity and sewage pipes, and a five-month delay in paying contract workers.

Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman Touch Channy said Hun Sen had endorsed a plan to keep mentally ill detainees at the Kom Pong Kontouch orphanage centre in Kandal Stung district.

“Next week, a team from the ministry will go for location scouting to see how much land we will need for this mental health centre; we will stop keeping mentally disabled people in Prey Speu,” he said.

But Phil Robertson, deputy director at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, described the government’s plan in an email as “more of that same failed approach”, which “will result in just another facility where abuses take place against some of the most vulnerable people in Cambodian society”.

“We’ve continually called for Prey Speu to be closed down… [the government needs to] implement a community-based assistance model that integrates rather than incarcerates, and provides voluntary treatment rather than threats and abuse.”

Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, agreed the centre could not be reformed and should be shut down. “The centre has always been a place where not just abuses [occur], but also elements of corruption for people to be released,” she said.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Meas Chanyada said the contract workers had now been compensated for their months of unpaid labour.

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