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Shooting Victims in Fear as Alleged Shooter Goes Free

An unidentified garment worker lying on a hospital bed with multiple gunshot wounds to her back.
An unidentified garment worker lying on a hospital bed with multiple gunshot wounds to her back.

Victims of a shooting in the eastern province of Svay Rieng last month say they are now living in fear, as local authorities have failed to detain the man accused of shooting them, the former governor of Bavet city.

Chhouk Bandith remains free, after he allegedly shot into a crowd of garment workers who had gathered to protest working conditions at a special economic zone in Svay Rieng in front of Kaoway Sports factory.

He was questioned by the provincial court last week but walked away without being held.

Two of the three female victims have said they hope to sue the former governor, who was removed from his post after the Feb. 20 shooting but retains a position within the provincial administration.

“I’m afraid, because he is a big man,” Bun Chenda, 21, who was seriously injured when a bullet struck her in the chest, told VOA Khmer. “He can do whatever he wants by ordering his men [to do it].”

Bun Chenda’s sister, Sam Sina, said the family has been “living in fear” of Chhouk Bandith. “If he is arrested, there could be some prevention of harm for us,” she said.

Keo Nea, who is 18, was also injured in the shooting. She lives not far from Bun Chenda.

“He dared shoot us, so he would also dare send his men to come and do whatever he wants toward us,” she said.

Local officials, meanwhile, say that high-ranking officials, including the deputy police chief, have been trying to broker a deal with the women to convince them to drop the charges.

Sok Sia, deputy chief of Prey Pdao village, said officials offered the women money or motorbikes in exchange for their dropping the charges.

“I only went to tell the families of the victims [about the deal], as ordered by the higher-ups, but I can’t force the victims to agree to the deal,” he told VOA Khmer.

Nuth Bopinnaroath, the local coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said the provincial court has not dealt with the case properly.

“The prosecutor does not seem willing to detain the suspect whatsoever,” he said. “From what he told us, it appears he is trying to find ways to downgrade the crime.”

The prosecutor, Hing Bunchea, declined to be interviewed. However, he recently told local media it is his right to decide whether an arrest is necessary or not. “I don’t see it as important,” he said.

Local rights workers and the victims themselves, however, say Chhouk Bandith’s detention would provide them some protection, as well as potential witnesses.