Is alleged murder 1st major Karen crime?

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The alleged murder of Albert Lea resident Po Lye in St. Paul prompted questions from the state’s Karen population, but it might be the first high-profile crime among the the 4,000 members of the Karen population in Minnesota.

According to Saw Morrison of the St. Paul-based Karen Organization of Minnesota, it is.

He said Minnesotans have seen crimes from immigrant populations such as Hmong and Somali create headlines, but he said the Karen population since it began arriving in Minnesota in 2004 has been relatively quiet.

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That has made this case particularly difficult for Karen people.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed homicide charges Monday against St. Paul man Pah Ber, 48, for allegedly stabbing Lye to death and stabbing his own wife, Paw Pree, 40. She was left blind and critically injured but alive.

Morrison, a program manager for employment and social services, said Karen Organization of Minnesota is working closely with St. Paul and Albert Lea police on the case.

He said Lye, 40, lived in Albert Lea for about a year. He said the man did not have family in Minnesota but did have friends in Albert Lea and St. Paul.

He said there was nothing in Ber’s past to indicate mental issues or a criminal record.

Lye suffered “a very deep and wide laceration” to his neck, along with stab wounds to his stomach and chest, according to court documents. He died at the scene.

The incident happened sometime after 6 a.m. Saturday at an apartment building near the intersection of Farrington Street and West Arlington Avenue. Ber reportedly came home from drinking and playing cards, saw Lye sleeping on the living room couch and accused him of sleeping with his wife.

Ber already had been teased by fellow refugees about his wife cheating on him, according to the police investigation.

“If you look at any American,” Morrison said, “even if what the man said had been true, you aren’t supposed to kill other people.”

Morrison said Lye was among about 200 Karen people residing in Albert Lea. He said the man went to St. Paul about twice a month, usually spending his time with women.

The Karen people originate mainly from Burma but also a small part of Thailand. They are a minority persecuted by the Burmese military. Tens of thousands have fled to refugee camps in Thailand. From there, many have come to America under federal refugee protection laws.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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