6 Convicts Escape From Crumbling R’kiri Prison

Six fugitives who escaped from Ratanakkiri’s provincial prison in Ba­nlung town late Wednesday remain at large, officials said Sunday.

Provincial Prosecutor Mey Sak­hon said one escapee had been convicted of murder and the others stood accused of murder, drug trafficking, rape and armed robbery.

“We still have no clue where they have been hiding,” he said.

The walls of the prison, which houses 100 and was built shortly after the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979, are made of aged, crumbling concrete, he said. “Even a toothbrush could be used to break it,” he said, adding that a few years ago two prisoners staged a similar escape. “The building is too old. I am worried other prisoners will break and run.”

Provincial Deputy Police Chief Chea Bunthoeun said police are actively searching for the fugitives.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, ap­pealed to police Sunday to hasten their investigation, lest the criminals wreak more havoc in the province. He alleged that bribery is common in the prison—prisoners and their families routinely pay guards for visits and small favors, he claimed— and could have been a factor in Wed­nesday’s jailbreak.

“We should not just blame the old building as the reason, but we should investigate bribery as a possibility,” he said.

Prison Director Ngin Nel de­clined to speak, hang­ing up his phone several times Sunday.

Heng Hak, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s prisons de­partment, said Sunday that he has not heard any allegations of bribery at the prison. “We will do more investigation into this case,” he said.

He added that many prisons ac­ross Cambodia are old. He said a lo­cal com­pany, which he declined to name, has partnered with the Min­istry of Interior to build a new, larger prison nearby in Banlung. Con­struc­tion could start this year, he said.

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