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Crime and coup violence makes for a dangerous Cambodian capital

July 13, 1997

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ This war-weary city was notorious for banditry, trigger-happy soldiers and corrupt military police even before a violent coup. Now it is even worse.

On July 2, it was only 9:30 p.m. when Americans Doug Hosier and D’Arcy Courteau and two companions decided to head back to their tiny budget hotel near Phnom Penh’s Central Market.

Around the corner from its front door they were stopped at gunpoint by two young Cambodian men. A brief melee, a lone shot and Hosier fell to the pavement. A single bullet had ripped into his throat.

``He grabbed his throat with his hands and all he could whisper was `Help me, please help me,‴ Courteau, 19, told The Associated Press.

Hosier, 36 and originally from Illinois, struggled for a moment, and then it was over. Cambodia’s lawless streets claimed another crime victim in a killing spree that appears to have no bounds.

For years, Cambodia’s capital by night has been notorious for its legions of cutthroat robbers and con artists. Still, what little civil order existed evaporated in the weeks leading up to the July 5 coup by politician Hun Sen.

When Hun Sen deposed his co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the sight of tanks and armed soldiers running amok spurred on Phnom Penh’s criminal element.

By day, Phnom Penh is a city trying to get back on its feet from the coup that left dozens dead and peppered sections of city with bullet holes. By night, it’s a city of unseen hazards, everything from cutthroat thieves to uncovered manholes.

When the sun sets, the rattle of storefront shutters clatter through the streets as shop owners rush to get home before dark. Toughened young soldiers, rifles slung over their shoulders, linger on street corners. No one else stops and chats.

By 8 p.m. most nights, the streets are virtually empty. Only a few motorbike-taxi drivers stick it out, hoping to earn an overpriced fare for risking a evening journey.

Near the city’s post office, the clap of gunshots breaks the silence _ one, two, three. A pause, and finally a fourth echoes on its own.

From Cambodia, where she hoped to find the tranquility of a Buddhist land, Courteau is heading home to Seattle with the haunting image of Hosier’s death on a filthy alley in Phnom Penh.

``The locals have the sense to stay inside, it’s only robbers and soldiers out at night,″ she said, wiping her tired eyes.

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