3 More Killed As Police Find Other Escapee

The second of two convicts who escaped from police custody during a bloody shootout outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday was shot to death Satur­day, along with two of the men who helped stage the ambush, authorities said.

That brings the death toll to five for the shocking assault at the court, which police say was staged by a heavily armed criminal gang to free two members just sentenced to nine years in prison.

In a gun battle Saturday, police killed the second convict, Chan­trea Ponleu, as well as Chheng Sovanra, 21; and Yim Tola, 20, said provincial Military Police Chief Mem Siborn. The others abandoned a stolen Land Cruiser and fled into the jungle.

Police continued to chase the remnants of the gang Sunday through thick jungle in Or commune, Phnom Sroch district, Kompong Speu province.

One suspect was arrested short­ly after noon in Koh village of Phnom Sroch district, about 2 km from National Route 4. Mem Siborn identified him as Vean Thy, 23.

He said Vean Thy had tried to disguise himself by buying clothes from villagers for $20, but was too weak to flee any longer because he had not eaten since the shootout Friday.

He remains in custody of military police, and has told them the gang members still at large have at least one grenade and one handgun with them.

The violent chain of events began Friday morning, as police were leading Chantrea Ponleu, 20, and Kong Hok, 18, to a police vehicle for transport to prison.

The two, who police say belong to a gang that has terrorized Phnom Penh in recent months, were arrested in March and charged with armed robbery.

Minutes later about 10 gang members, riding motorcycles and driving a stolen Toyota Camry, pulled up at the courthouse and began firing. Three policemen and the pregnant girlfriend of one of the convicts—allegedly the daughter of a former city deputy police commissioner—were hurt.

Police said they did not return fire at the courthouse, for fear of injuring onlookers. Yim Simony, Prampi Makara district police chief, said the gang was known to have “many grenades, and they would dare to throw them into the crowds to escape from our forces.”

But police sources said the six escort officers had left their assault rifles in their squad car and had only one 30-year-old pistol among them, which jammed. (Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press)

A motorcycle driver named Seng Poak, 51, was also killed and another civilian was injured before Kong Hok was fatally shot in the head by police.

Police chased the men into Kompong Speu province, where a wild battle ensued. At some point, the gang dumped the Camry and stole a Land Cruiser belonging to Save the Children’s Kompong Speu operation.

Mem Siborn said the gang members hurled one grenade at their pursuers and a second into the Ang Snuol district police headquarters in Kandal province.

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