Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Remorse absent in slaying of ‘sorcerer’

Remorse absent in slaying of ‘sorcerer’

Nhek Prea’s wife, Srin Pjuth (left), and mother, Cheum Veng, talk at their house in Mondulkiri’s Poukes village last week after he was killed by locals after being accused of being sorcerer.
Nhek Prea’s wife, Srin Pjuth (left), and mother, Cheum Veng, talk at their house in Mondulkiri’s Poukes village last week after he was killed by locals after being accused of being sorcerer. Kimberley McCosker

Remorse absent in slaying of ‘sorcerer’

The corpse of 28-year-old Nhoek Prea has been left rotting at the scene of his brutal murder for almost a month now.

His grieving mother and pregnant wife believe that if they attempt to recover the body, they will meet the same bloody fate.

Despite having no savings, they are preparing to abandon all of their earthly possessions – the family home, motorbikes, clothing, cooking utensils – in a desperate effort to avoid what they believe is a curse.

Prea was allegedly murdered by three of his neighbours who lured him into a Memang commune forest early last month on the pretense of hunting before allegedly killing him with chainsaws, knives and stones.

Police who inspected the body said the attack amounted to “torture”.

But despite the horrific nature of the crime, residents of Prea’s native Poukes village are calling for the four suspects – the three alleged murderers and an accomplice – to be released from the provincial prison, where they are currently being held while awaiting trial.

His family has been cast out of the community and subjected to threats.

The consensus in the remote village, which is populated by the Phnong ethnic minority group, which holds traditional animist beliefs, is that Prea was a murderous sorcerer who ate children’s souls, inflicted illness upon a beloved neighbour and, ultimately, deserved his fate.

At his home last week, Prea’s loved ones prepared to dismantle their lives.

Just metres away, a new wooden stilt house is under construction, which they plan to move into in the coming weeks, leaving behind their current three-bedroom home and everything inside it – estimated to be worth about $15,000.

“Everything in this home has to be abandoned after his death. We can’t use it anymore due to our traditions,” said Prea’s brother-in-law, Srin Yin. “Our tradition also prohibits us from seeing the corpse. If we see it, we believe that the same problem will happen to us.”

As she tended to her son’s two young children, Prea’s mother, 42-year-old Cheum Veng, said an “evil ghost” has taken his place in the forest about two kilometres from the home.

“This is a belief passed down by our ancestors, so no one dares to go.”

The family hopes to hold a funeral for Prea, but with little money and the prospect of having to rebuild their lives from scratch, a formal ceremony has proved out of their reach.

“It is very difficult for the family now. There is no father to work to support us anymore, and Prea’s wife is pregnant. We are sorry to lose this home, but we have to,” Veng said.

Nhek Prea’s mother holds a photo of him at the family’s house in Poukes village last week.
Nhek Prea’s mother holds a photo of him at the family’s house in Poukes village last week. Kimberley McCosker

According to his family, Prea was spending the night at home when four of his neighbours asked if he would like to go hunting.

“When he went out that night, I wasn’t worried, because they always used to do it.

They would hunt together and share the money from selling the animals the next morning,” said Prea’s wife, Srin Pjuth.

But when Prea didn’t return, Pjuth and her children started to worry.

“The kids and I cried; we were scared. Then we were told he was killed. I still don’t understand why. He had never had any problems with any of the villagers.”

However, just a few metres away, a group of neighbours later gathered to tell stories of threats, black magic and murder.

“He was a sorcerer, and he killed three of my kids just a few days after I gave birth to them, year after year,” said 20-year-old Lai Ith, whose husband is one of the suspects in the case.

Despite claims from Prea’s family that he was happily married, Ith said he had been madly in love with her, and her children’s deaths were punishment for it not being requited.

“He was angry with me when I refused to marry him … he said that I would be in trouble”.

Ith said Prea confessed that he had killed 120 people using magic before turning his attention to her.

“He made me sick and made my body swell bigger and bigger for more than 10 days. I couldn’t eat; I wasn’t conscious”, she said, squinting as tears built up in her eyes.

Ith’s mother, 40-year-old Srev Ry, shouted above her daughter that Prea had told the family “he wanted to eat humans, not rice or any other food”.

“We killed a few pigs to pray for him, but he didn’t accept them. He said that he wanted to eat [the souls of] human beings,” she yelled.

On the eve of his murder, the villagers held a ritualistic ceremony where everyone in the community was ordered to drink spiritual “oath water” to prove that they were not responsible for Ith’s ill health.

If the person behind her illness drank the water, villagers believed they would die.

But despite Prea taking part in the ceremony and remaining in good health, the following day, the villagers led him to his death.

“My husband took pity on me, so he killed the sorcerer. I recovered at the same moment the sorcerer died without taking any medicine,” Ith said.

While there was no doubt in the village as to who killed Prea, his murderers were last week revered as heroes.

“We are happy that he died. If he was still alive, my daughter would be dead,” said Ry to a chorus of agreement from neighbours gathered around her.

Ith, who has now fully recovered, said her husband should be released from prison so he can help to look after their newborn baby.

“He was a sorcerer, not just a simple villager, so my husband and the others killed him,” she said in defence of his crime.

But investigating judge Yar Narin said it is unlikely the suspects will be released before trial.

“It is really dangerous for the victim’s family when the suspects are out of detention.

The belief in sorcery is really deep in ethnic communities,” he added.

Back at Prea’s house, which is adorned in animal skulls and skins, his family vehemently denied the allegations of black magic.

“I never saw him doing anything to do with sorcery at home. He didn’t have any brateal [a succulent plant believed to hold magical properties], and didn’t practise magic,” Pjuth said.

Prea’s mother, who is now also accused of being a sorcerer, said villagers should have reported her son to the police, rather than murdering him.

“I would have been killed too if police hadn’t arrested the suspects so quickly.… I still want to have a good relationship with the villagers, but they don’t,” she said.

“I gave birth to my son, so if he is a sorcerer, I am too. But personally, I have never known or seen any sorcerer.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Joy as Koh Ker Temple registered by UNESCO

    Cambodia's Koh Ker Temple archaeological site has been officially added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17. The ancient temple, also known as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, is located in

  • Famed US collector family return artefacts to Cambodia

    In the latest repatriation of ancient artefacts from the US, a total of 33 pieces of Khmer cultural heritage will soon return home, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In a September 12 press statement, it said the US Attorney’s Office for the

  • Cambodia set to celebrate Koh Ker UNESCO listing

    To celebrate the inscription of the Koh Ker archaeological site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Ministry of Cults and Religion has appealed to pagodas and places of worship to celebrate the achievement by ringing bells, shaking rattles and banging gongs on September 20. Venerable

  • CP denied registration documents by ministry

    The Ministry of Interior will not reissue registration documents to the Candlelight Party (CP). Following a September 21 meeting between ministry secretary of state Bun Honn and CP representatives, the ministry cited the fact that there is no relevant law which would authorise it to do

  • Manet touches down in Beijing for high-level meetings

    Prime Minister Hun Manet arrived in Beijing on September 14 for his first official visit to China, where he is slated to attend the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and meet other leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Upon his arrival, Manet laid a wreath at the Monument

  • Cambodian diaspora laud Manet’s UN Assembly visit

    Members of the Cambodian diaspora are rallying in support of Prime Minister Hun Manet’s forthcoming visit to the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA 78) in the US’ New York City this week. Their move is an apparent response to a recent call by self-exiled former