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Virak Buntham ‘Sexual Assault’

Jack Laurenson / Khmer Times Share:

SIHANOUKVILLE – “Alice” takes a deep breath and bravely begins recounting the story of the frightening attempted rape that took place on a Virak Buntham sleeper bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville on Monday night. 
On Wednesday, she took the bold decision to speak with Khmer Times after she was outraged when her alleged attacker walked out of a Sihanoukville police station “with a big smile on his face” after she says he was seen handing over some money to a friendly police officer. 
Both the owner of her hotel – who contacted Khmer Times – and Alice herself, say they witnessed this. 
“I couldn’t really believe what I saw,” said the owner of the hotel where Alice is staying, asking not to be named for fear of reprisal. “They hugged, shook hands, laughed and eventually money was handed over before he simply walked out.”
The Attack
“I was suspicious when Virak Buntham bus staff asked me to move to the back of the sleeper bus,” says Alice, as she recalls her sleepy journey on the nearly empty bus, which had two drivers and one assistant. 
“There were only a couple of other foreigners on the vehicle, and loads of space, so I didn’t really understand why they were so insistent that I had to move to the back.”
Isolated at the back of the near-empty bus and travelling alone, she felt she had been manoeuvred into a vulnerable, dangerous position.  
About 3.15 am, as the bus headed along the highway to Sihanoukville, the driver allegedly switched with his partner, changed from his Virak Buntham uniform into civilian clothing and headed to Alice’s bunk where he attacked her. 
“I awoke, drowsy and confused, to discover a Khmer man forcing his way under my blanket,” she says. 
‘Pinned Down’
Alice says that before she could properly realize what was happening, the man then climbed on top of her upper body, pinning her down before attempting to force sexual intercourse on her. 
“I shouted at him to get off and pushed him as hard as I could,” she recalls, visibly shaken as she recounts the night’s events. 
“Initially he just looked blank and confused, before he finally crawled off and left; I couldn’t believe what had happened.” 
The accused has since said that he merely fell onto Alice and didn’t assault her.
Bus Company Responds
Frightened and shaken, Alice went to the front of the bus to complain, but other passengers and the staff expressed little interest. One of only two other foreign passengers offered for her to sit with him for the remainder of the journey. 
She was shocked to eventually see the man who she says attacked her take the wheel of the bus, revealing that he was the Virak Buntham driver. 
Upon arrival at the company’s office in Sihanoukville, Alice demanded that the branch manager, Mr. Channy, call the police, but he repeatedly refused, says Alice. 
Instead, she was blockaded into a room with her attacker from the bus, Mr. Channy and two other Virak Buntham employees. There, she alleges that Mr. Channy shouted at her, grabbed her by the arms and violently shook her. 
Virak Buntham eventually called the police – to arrest Alice – when she attempted to defend herself, accidentally breaking a flower pot in the process. 
Police however, were of little use to Alice when they took her to a nearby station, telling her there was no point in filing a complaint, although they eventually took one when she insisted, but ultimately released the alleged attacker without explanation after a police was photographed by one witness who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal allegedly taking money.  
The Seven Deputy Commissioners
Khmer Times then contacted Brigadier General Chuon Narin, Sihanoukville’s Chief of Police, to ask why Alice’s attacker had been allowed to walk free after seemingly paying a police officer and what was being done to investigate her attack.
Khmer Times also asked if senior officers would urgently meet with Alice and local British consular officials to discuss her case. General Narin responded by scheduling an immediate meeting with Deputy Commissioner Koh Phally. 
Over the next few hours throughout Wednesday afternoon, Alice, the British Embassy’s representative in Sihanoukville, her hotel-owner and Khmer Times  met with seven different deputy commissioners as the city’s top cops sought to conclusively tackle the latest sexual assault here. 
Eventually, it was revealed that the police had detained a suspect – Long Sopheap, 31 – in custody, although it wasn’t clear exactly when he was detained. 
Alice positively identified her attacker once again, this time in the presence of five different deputy commissioners. 
“Why does it take all of these senior officers to handle just one crime?” commented her hotel-owner. “This is too much.”
Staying for Prosecution
Alice, who had planned to travel to Thailand and back to England within days of her attack, has stayed in Sihanoukville to see through the charging and prosecution of her attacker. 
“If I don’t stay and see that this man is properly punished for his crime, he’ll just do it again,” she said. 
“He’s clearly a dangerous sexual predator and has probably tried this before, next time it could be much worse.” 
Yesterday, police in Sihanoukville confirmed that they’re still investigating the latest – and most serious – criminal allegations against Virak Buntham staff. 
Officials also confirmed to Khmer Times that the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court had decided to charge Alices’ alleged attacker after she gave evidence to senior police officers yet again. The accused bus driver will appear in court again after the public holiday has passé, sources involved in the case say.

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