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Village stoning breeds fears

Uy Ry sits among other villagers at a house in Takeo province’s Bati district
Uy Ry sits among other villagers at a house in Takeo province’s Bati district yesterday, where a man was attacked and killed based on villagers’ belief that he was a sorcerer. Koam Chanrasmey

Village stoning breeds fears

Ever since some 500 people laid siege to the home of traditional healer pov Sovann, dragged him out and brutally stoned him to death over the course of eight hours on Sunday, two opposing sets of fears have gripped members of his community in Takeo province’s Bati district.

One group, perhaps the majority of this small community, is happy to see the man gone, but fears the spirit of the dead “sorcerer” will possess a successor – his wife – who will continue the same spiritual slayings that they believe left nine in the community dead over the past two years.

The other, represented chiefly by Sovann’s extended family, feels powerless in the face of the spectre of another uncontrollable mob, undeterred by police, that may return at any moment to do the same thing to Sovann’s wife, Chev Chenda, who is still in hiding.

Bloodstains splattered on old rice sacks and on the floors of Sovann’s one-room stilt house betray a struggle that ended in the back left corner of the dwelling. From there, a long wine-coloured streak shows where Sovann was dragged to the house’s elevated porch, and the steep stairs from which he was thrown to the mob.

Outside, chicks pecked around a pile of bloody bricks and shards of glass that had served as crude weapons just days before.

No one in Prey Lounh village yesterday admitted to taking part in the actual stoning, but that isn’t to say they weren’t pleased with it.

“Before we were worried,” Chan Veng, a neighbour of Sovann, said. “But now we’re happy as long as no one else like him comes.”

Sitting under a house not 200 metres away from Sovann’s, Veng and a cluster of villagers and their children all wore bright, new bracelets made of red thread – a ubiquitous token throughout the village, obtained yesterday morning, Veng said, from monks to protect them from ghosts.

Uy ry, the husband of the last of Sovann’s alleged victims, said his wife had visited Sovann to have her fortune told.

Ry’s wife then fell ill for two days before a “pain” in her throat kept her from eating or drinking, he said. Despite the apparent closure of her throat, he maintained, she was “healthy” up until her death on Thursday. To Ry, the cause was clear: “My wife, she said the sorcerer came and possessed her.

“We are happy [Sovann is dead], and we no longer worry that people will die,” Ry added, a portrait of his late wife looking down from the wall of his house.

“But if his wife survives, we still worry about her. She would be more powerful than her hus-
band, but she will be safe if she changes her ways and doesn’t act like her husband.”

Dom Pheak, a neighbour and cousin of Sovann and whose house is next to the scene of the killing, says that Sovann’s extended family, many of whom live near Sovann’s home, still fear for the safety of the healer’s wife.

“What if they come back again?” she asked.

Ka Sak, Chenda’s father, dismissed the rumours of his son-in-law’s alleged curses, saying the alleged victims all had health problems.

“The person who died in the house in front of our house had prostate cancer. and the person who was dead in the house behind my house had a chronic disease,” he said. “The other people had sudden diseases and could not go to the hospital in time, so they just died.

“I hope that my daughter will return to stay at home, and i hope that she will be safe,” he added.

Meong Kim Chuon, the deputy provincial police chief, acknowledged that the dozens of police officers present had failed to prevent the murder but said that the identities of five suspects had been submitted to the court, and that the five had been questioned – but not arrested.

Crouching in the shade a few metres from Sovann’s house, village chief Ke Yav expressed hope that Chenda would return, saying she would be safe in the village, before immediately recanting.

“I don’t know,” he said. “If she has not committed any bad things, she will be safe.”

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