Police Storm Captors Ending Harrowing 6-Hours in Siem Reap
siem reap province – A 2-year-old Canadian boy was killed when four men took dozens of kindergarten students and five teachers hostage at a school in Siem Reap town on Thursday morning, officials said.
The masked men stormed the school at about 8:30 am and took between 20 and 25 children aged 2 to 5 years hostage in their classroom, military police said.
Five teachers and a security guard were also taken hostage, the Interior Ministry said in a statement Thursday evening.
As security forces surrounded the school, the four hostage-takers demanded a ransom of $1,000, B-40 rocket launchers, AK-47 rifles, hand grenades and a minivan to drive them to Poipet, said Hek Ra, a military police lieutenant in Siem Reap. He said that three of the men were unarmed, while one of them carried a shotgun.
At about 1:30 pm, after several hours of negotiations, police handed over $30,000 and a minivan, but no weapons, Hek Ra said.
As the men got into the minibus with about 10 foreign and Cambodian children and a female foreign teacher, military police stormed the vehicle.
The armed hostage-taker, identified as Chea Kom, tried to shoot at the military police, but his gun failed, Hek Ra said.
Military police then broke open the windows of the van, arrested the men inside and liberated the hostages, Hek Ra said.
A two-year-old Canadian boy was shot dead during the morning standoff, Hek Ra said.
“We are very sorry that there is the loss of one Canadian child,” said Sim Son, Siem Reap provincial governor.
The Ministry of Interior expressed regrets and condolences for the family in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
The French Embassy expressed its condolences for the death of the Canadian child, adding that a French child was also taken hostage but was released and is alive and well.
Lek Ramonith Laurent, a Cambodian program officer with Belgian Technical Cooperation in Siem Reap, said his son, Bonepart, was held hostage and injured during the standoff by a window that was shattered by gunfire.
He did not say who fired the gun, but Hek Ra said the four men fired shots in the air before leaving the compound.
“My son survived but is injured,” Lek Ramonith Laurent said by telephone.
Sin Lyvong, a three-year-old Singaporean, was also held hostage by the men, her mother Sharon Tan, who manages the Australian Center for Education in Siem Reap said.
She added that her son is in good shape.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that he was not traumatized,” Tan said.
Tan said she arrived a few minutes after the standoff began and added that Sar Kheng, co-Minister of Interior, arrived about an hour later.
“When I arrived the police were already there,” Tan said. “Right from the start there were negotiations between the authorities and the men.”
Sok Phal, deputy national police commissioner, said he was in Siem Reap but was too busy to discuss the incident.
Several foreign diplomats said they were hazy about what might have motivated the hostage takers.
“We’re trying to figure out if there’s any foreign element…. We really don’t know. Police have not been telling us who these people are,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
According to witnesses interviewed in Siem Reap town, four men dressed in civilian clothing stopped at an intersection about 50 meters from the Siem Reap International School then started walking toward the school.
A 25-year-old barber whose shop is located across from the school’s gate said he was talking to the school’s security guard at the gate when the men appeared.
One of the men was carrying a small black bag.
All through the morning, the barber said, trucks had been going in and out of the compound and workers had been setting up a pavilion.
“They [the students and teachers] were going to celebrate the end of school,” the barber said.
The men reached the school’s gate and walked into the compound, heading straight for the main building, the barber said, adding that he did not know why the guard did not stop them.
“They walked straight to the room,” the barber said.
Once inside, a shot was fired.
The barber said the construction workers, teachers and school principal ran out the main gate and the principal called police.
About 15 minutes later, police arrived, and over the next few hours more police and soldiers arrived to set up a roadblock and cordon off the area.
The barber said he could hear at least one of the hostage-takers yelling at police from the school, though he couldn’t hear what they were saying.
At about 3 pm, according to witnesses, a van was driven into the compound, which is surrounded by stone walls and guarded by a gate, to transport the hostage-takers to Thailand.
The four men came out of the classroom with the hostages, according to witness Sou Choeun, and started loading the children into the van.
After children were in the van, Sou Choeun said, a gunman was starting to get into the van when police tried to grab him. The gunman fired twice, hitting a military police man before he himself was grabbed and arrested as police stormed the van and arrested the other three men.
It was unclear when the Canadian boy was shot.
His body was taken to the nearby Naga International Clinic where it was later transported to Phnom Penh.
A Canadian official at the clinic, charges d’affaires Alan Leber, declined to comment.
A man who identified himself as a colleague of the boy’s father said the child’s first name was Maxim.
The man said Maxim’s parents were from Slovakia but Maxim was born in Canada. The family had arrived in Siem Reap two months ago where Maxim’s father had taken a job with a new hotel set to open within two months.
“They are obviously distraught,” the man said.
(By Lor Chandara and Lee Berthiaume in Siem Reap and Prak Chan Thul, William Shaw and Michelle Vachon)