Murdered in Cambodia

A tragic murder has underlined the need for reform among Cambodia’s police force.

Cambodian police are having a torrid time lately. Murdered foreigners are turning up at an alarming rate and the authorities are struggling to catch those responsible.

In mid-February a French woman was found dead. The 25-year-old was naked and had been bludgeoned on the head. Her clothes and the bike she was riding when she disappeared on a Saturday evening have not been found. Police say they have no idea who killed her. Her name has not been released.

Earlier this month, 43-year-old Japanese businessman Kosei Kitakura was shot dead after being attacked by two men who tried to rob him while he was getting out of his taxi outside of his apartment on a Sunday morning. Kitakura fought back, was shot several times and his killers fled on motorbikes.

And then there was the supposed murder-suicide case of a French family in September 2011. A team of ten French investigators went to Cambodia to follow up on the case, however, and the conclusions they shared this month inspire little confidence in the original story.

Cambodian police had already decided that life had become too much for 42-year-old Frenchman Laurent Vallier, who they claimed had killed his four young children, before driving their bodies into a pond behind the family home where he drowned. That was supposed to be the end of the tragic matter, but his family and the French embassy in Phnom Penh were far from convinced.

For several weeks the French team carried out forensic tests at the site. They found that the driver’s door was open and the state of the car’s electrics was consistent with the vehicle having been pushed into the pond.

They also discovered that Cambodian police had failed to notice that Vallier’s skull was sitting in a suitcase in the back of his SUV.

The evidence was obviously inconsistent with murder-suicide and the focus has now shifted to his Khmer in-laws. Police initially thought there was nothing unusual about Vallier’s brother-in-law claiming ownership of land that Vallier, a widower, and his two sons and two daughters had lived on. His wife died during childbirth in 2009.

Police now say they believe three to five people were involved with the murders.

The French embassy tactfully said in a statement that the investigation “has led to breakthroughs which are now ruling out the possibility of suicide.”

This tragic case highlights a problematic trend, rooted in economics, which is widespread among Cambodia’s police, who are often accused of corruption and protecting the influential.

Considering the reality that most Cambodian police are paid little more than U.S. $30 per month, barely enough to make ends meet, it is clear why many resort to corruption. If those in senior positions are serious about resolving these tragic killings, however, then it’s time rethink and reform the Cambodian approach to law and order.