Police are seeking two men suspected of raping a young woman after a brazen abduction from a Phnom Penh beer garden last week, in a crime rights workers say is not uncommon in a growing culture of impunity.
The victim, who is 16 years old, was allegedly kidnapped by two men at gunpoint from Soun Samneang beer garden around 1 am on Friday night, according to her brother, Ra, who witnessed the abduction and asked that only his first name be used.
Ra's account was corroborated by a police report and testimony of another witness, who asked not to be named with the two men still at large.
The men had been drinking at the beer garden earlier that night, Ra said. They drank until the restaurant closed, and just as Ra's mother arrived to pick up his sister, they returned in their car, a green Toyota Corolla, brandishing pistols.
The two men, both in their twenties, pushed his sister and mother into the car, Ra said in a recent interview from his apartment near Soun Samneang, where he shares a room with guards and waitresses from the restaurant.
He was unable to help because of the guns, Ra said.
"That night, they came," Ra said. "I was fighting with them, and they said, 'Be careful of dying,' and they also pushed me toward the car. I want these gangsters put in prison."
The kidnappers took the two women on National Road 6, dropping the mother at the Japanese Friendship Bridge in Phnom Penh, Ra said, citing accounts of his sister and mother. They then took his sister to Tek Meas guesthouse, on the Chroy Changva peninsula, where both men raped her, Ra alleged.
Chamkar Mon district police said they have received a complaint from the victim, who said she asked to use the phone of Tek Meas, after the alleged assailants left her, taking her phone and her jewelry.
However, staff members at the Tek Meas guesthouse said Monday they had no knowledge of the incident.
A night guard at the guesthouse, who declined to give his name, said he was asleep by 11 pm that night and did not know two men had taken a girl into a room.
"I know nothing. I heard nothing. I went to sleep as usual," he said.
Everyone with knowledge of Friday's incident was afraid to give his or her full name, for fear of reprisal.
The owner of the Soun Samneang beer garden, who gave her first name, Neat, said she had helped the victim file a complaint.
"I'm worried about this kind of case happening again at my restaurant, because the restaurant has no right to keep the guns of its visitors," she said. It is not possible to know which guests have guns, she said.
A coworker, Nuon, who is a beer promotion girl at Soun Samneang, said she and other girls at the restaurant are now afraid for their safety.
"Even the young gangsters have guns. That's why I'm afraid," she said, adding that she was forced to continue working to earn money and support her parents.
Ra said his sister and mother have gone into hiding.
Chamkar Mon District Police Chief Ouch Sokhorn said Monday the two suspects had been identified, but he declined to provide further details in the ongoing investigation.
However, Friday night's alleged crime was not an isolated incident, and similar cases are not hard to find.
Another victim, Leak, 21, worked as an Angkor Beer promotion girl last year at a similar beer garden in Phnom Penh. In May 2007 she was taken by three men with a gun who forced her into their car and took her to another guesthouse along National Road 6, not far from the Tek Meas.
"One man pointed the gun and forced me to get in the car, and they brought me to a guesthouse," she said. "One man wore a condom, but the other two did not. That's why I'm afraid of AIDS."
The event still haunts her, she said, and the memory of it hurts. She never filed a complaint, and now regrets it, she said, because the three men who raped her remain free.
Lim Mony, director of the women's department of the rights group Adhoc, said criminals in Cambodia look down on the police, their impunity a product of the inability of police to fully protect the people.
"It shows that the honesty and dignity of the law are low down," she said. "The police do not fully protect the safety of society."
Most important, she said, such abductions and rapes exhibit a disregard for women, and especially women who work at night.
Nop Sarin Sreyroth, secretary-general of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, said Friday night's case highlighted a worsening problem, where offenders have no respect for the law.
If the men are not arrested and punished, it will affect the feeling of women who work at night, she said, and will encourage other similar crimes.
Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naroth said last week the city was meeting with guesthouse owners to make sure they register their guests before renting them a room, or face a fine or closure.
Guesthouses have become a favorite place for petty criminals to do drugs, commit crimes, and rape women, he said.