A sex worker missing since Sunday night hit her head while falling into the Tonle Sap river after fleeing Phnom Penh district security guards on foot and jumping onto boats, witnesses said on Monday.
Chheng Leak, the owner of a tourist boat, said she saw about five women on the run along the riverside near Wat Phnom. “I saw the security guards chase them from the mainland to the boats,” she recalled.
She said one of them—a local sex worker she knew only as Kunthea—slipped while trying to jump from one boat to another, hitting her head as she fell into the water.
The woman remained motionless in the river, she said.
Ms. Leak said she tried to help the woman only to be threatened by the guards.
“I asked my staff to help, but they warned us that if we helped her they would beat us.”
Houng Thim, the manager of another tourist boat, said he had also witnessed the chase, and blamed the guards for the woman’s fall.
“She went missing in the river after those guards chased her,” he said. It wouldn’t have happened “if they didn’t follow her onto the boat,” he said.
However, the chief of Daun Penh district’s security guards, Kim Vutha, denied his forces had chased the woman.
During a raid, a group of sex workers had fled from an area around the Council for the Development of Cambodia building, running toward the tourist boats on the river, he said.
But the guards were too few to chase them all the way, he said. “It was dark at the time. If we had 20 to 30 guards, then we would have chased her,” Mr. Vutha said.
The guards had conducted several raids on sex workers on Sunday night, starting at Wat Botum Park, in preparation for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to the pagoda the following morning, Mr. Vutha said. The raids moved on to the Wat Phnom area where four sex workers were arrested, he said.
The woman remained missing on Monday, but Mr. Vutha said it was too soon to say what had become of her.
“The missing woman—we can’t conclude that she died. Sometimes, she would leave home and go to play cards at Phsar Chas,” Mr. Vutha said.
odom@cambodiadaily.com
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