Siem Reap police are fending off allegations that they harassed and humiliated a Khmer Krom monk and a layman who have gone missing while visiting the province.
Meas Vichet, the monk, and a layman known as Ny, both from the Toul Sangke pagoda in Phnom Penh, have been missing since June 19.
This follows a series of bizarre events that ignited suspicion among social media users and NGOs fighting for the rights of the minority Khmer Kampuchea Krom.
The accusations against Siem Reap town police of harassing the pair arose after pictures surfaced online of both wearing only pants and rice bags as clothing before their disappearance.
In response, the police issued a statement on Friday detailing their interactions with the pair.
According to police, Srange commune security guards on June 18 spotted the pair stumbling along a road and were unable to glean anything from the pair who they said were incoherent.
Neither the monk nor the layman had any identification document on them, but were carrying a pagoda stamp, bead necklaces, and a small amount of cash. They said they were intending to visit Phnom Kulen.
The commune police chief ordered the security guards to escort the pair to a taxi, but both allegedly jumped off the guard’s motorbike along the way, subsequently stripping off their clothes and fleeing.
Police say they were then spotted at about 7am on June 19 in front of Kesararam pagoda in Svay Dangkum commune wearing nothing but rice bags and jumping in front of cars on National Road 6.
The police say they provided pants to the men and escorted them to Wat Tep Pranorm on the premises of Angkor Thom temple for safety, where they were last seen before their disappearance.
Tith Narong, Siem Reap town police chief, said that his officers are continuing to search for the pair and dismissed social media banter that police forced the pair to wear the rice bags as clothes.
“We haven’t found them yet and we are still searching,” he said.
Police claimed that unnamed groups might be behind the falsehoods of police abuse to further their own agenda.
Son Chum Chuon, senior program director at the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, said he is watching the case closely and does not fully believe the police.
“The truth will be revealed when we can find them,” he said. Sours Narin, provincial coordinator for right group Adhoc, said his NGO is also searching for the men. He also doubted the police statements.
“I doubt that they are mentally unfit,” he said of the missing men.
“Their relatives and friends met them last year and said they were normal, without any mental problems.”