PREY TOTUNG Village, Kandal - A series of rapes perpetrated by a gang of well-armed
youths wearing only underwear and utility belts with knives have caused serious public
concern in the Kandal countryside.
Since May 24, police authorities have registered at least 20 rape and robbery attacks
by the gang along a corridor of Route Three spanning Kandal, Kampong Speu and Takeo.
"These are sick, cruel people," the Chief of Police for Prey Totung Village
in Kandal, Yim Peun, said of the rapist gang. "More than twenty policemen from
the village, district and provincial level have been mobilized to find these criminals."
The recent mobilization came too late for Poeurn and her 15-year old daughter, who
were the first victims of the gang, on May 30.
"They showed up here at around 7:30pm ... ten men wearing nothing but underwear
and with very new AK-47s, who said they were looking for gold," she said.
After ransacking Poeurn's house and finding no gold, the men tied up Poeurn's husband
and led her daughter outside.
"Three men raped her," Poeurn said. "Then they held her hostage while
I went around the village to borrow money for a 200,000 riel ransom."
Three weeks after the attack, Poeurn and her family now abandon their rural farmhouse
each evening at sunset for the relative safety of a nearby construction site, for
fear the robbers will return.
"These men want gold and daughters ... I only have a daughter," she said
of the family's nightly relocations.
The rapes of Poeurn's daughter and five other girls in the area since then have provoked
many neighboring residents to make similar attempts to find safe haven in the evenings
while the robbers remain at large.
"It's true, people who live in wooden farmhouses have been putting their daughters
together in larger houses with high walls and fences for protection," Peun said.
"They have also asked police to provide these safe houses with special protection
in the evenings."
Haum Khoeun, a public health nurse in Prey Totung told the Post that the recent rapes
have prompted the development of a public warning system to help protect the area
in case the assailants return.
"You'll notice that there are special warning signs in this area explaining
the danger after dark," Khoeun said. "People are also using bells and drums
to warn of possible danger."
While Poeurn insists that the new weapons and military-style knife- belts worn by
the attackers suggest they are soldiers or policemen, Peun will concede only that
the gang is "extremely well-organized".
"The underwear they wear [during their attacks] is like a kind of uniform,"
he explained. "And they want cash, gold or girls only, as Poeurn's husband offered
them his cow and they refused."
Meanwhile, Khoeun worries about the risk of HIV-transmission to the gang's victims.
"Only one victim has come to be examined here so far," she said. "Any
girls who don't [seek treatment] might become unknowing HIV carriers."