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No justice yet for Kep and Sihanoukville collapse victims

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
A scene of the aftermath of the Sihanoukville collapse. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Survivors and families of dead victims of building collapses in Kep and Preah Sihanouk provinces are calling for justice over the deadly incidents amid little progress from the courts.

On January 4, a seven-storey building under construction collapsed in Kep province’s Kep city, killing 36 people, including children, and injuring 23 others.

The building owner Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy were charged by Kampot Provincial Court with manslaughter under Articles 207 and 236 of the Criminal Code. However, they were released after posting an $87,000 bail.

Ouk Oeun, 48, a survivor who lost four family members, including his wife, in the Kep building collapse said yesterday his family has still not received justice.

Mr Oeun, who regularly goes to Vietnam to treat a pinched nerve he suffered during the collapse, said his family has not received any compensation even though he had filed a claim against the building owners through his lawyers.

“Until now, justice remains far away from us,” he said. “Since after the building collapse, I have received no information about the progress of the case and the court has not summoned me or my family members to provide testimony.”

Mr Oeun said his family is demanding $50,000 for each death and injury caused by the collapse. He urged the court to speed up the case and provide justice to all families of victims.

Tep Thon, a secretary of state at the Land Management Ministry and head of the working group to probe the collapse, previously told Khmer Times poor quality cement was used to coat iron bars which supported the seven-storey building.

However, when asked who would be held responsible for the incident, he referred the question to the Kampot provincial court which is handling the case.

Contacted yesterday, Kampot provincial court spokesman Mann Boret said the investigating judge Long Kesphirum, also court director, has not finished his probe yet.

“The Kampot provincial court has questioned many victims and the case is ongoing,” he said. “I cannot tell you when this case will conclude.”

Mr Boret said he also could not say when Sarun and Sothy would be tried over the charge.

The couple could not be reached for comment but their lawyer Kong Sam Onn has claimed they should not have been charged. He pinned the blame for the collapse on a contractor who died during the incident.

The building collapsed in June last year killing 28 people and injuring 26 others.

The families of those who died in the collapse in Sihanoukville are also waiting for justice.

The families said they have received “empty justice” because the suspects charged over the collapse were not convicted.

Tep Samrith, 32, who lost three family members, including his 43-year-old brother Tep Meng, during the collapse said yesterday  a $60,000 demand for compensation over his brother’s death remains unresolved.

“We have been waiting for justice for nearly a year, but the situation remains unchanged,” he said. “Until now we have not even received one cent in compensation.”

Mr Samrith said his family received about $100,000 from donations by the government and well-wishers.

Authorities have said the Chinese-owned building was built without a permit and the builders ignored stop-work orders from local officials who went down to the site a few times.

Four people involved in the collapse were arrested and charged.

They are Chen Kun, a Chinese national who leased the land for construction, Deng Xing Gui, a building contractor, Gao Yu, a concrete wall contractor and Nhek Huy, a Cambodian who owned the land.

Preah Sihanouk provincial court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday but Sreng Vanly, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho who monitors the case said, the court has not fixed a trial date for the case so far.

He urged the court to speed up the case and provide justice to the victims.

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