siem reap province – A disgruntled former employee may have been responsible for Thursday’s deadly hostage taking at an international school in Siem Reap, officials said Friday.
Chea Sokhom, the 23-year-old alleged ringleader in the hostage-taking, had spent the last six months driving the daughter, niece and nephew of South Korean businessman Bae Sang Man around Siem Reap for $50 a month.
On June 11, Chea Sokhom asked for permission to visit his home village in Kandal province’s Samrong Thom commune, Kien Svay district.
Chea Sohei, Chea Sokhom’s cousin, said on Friday that his relative was a notorious gangster in Prek Takav village and that his family had sent him to Siem Reap in the hope he would reform.
On June 14, the day Chea Sokhom was to return to work, Chea Sohei said he called his family and was told his cousin wasn’t coming back to Siem Reap because his grandparents didn’t want him to.
On Thursday, Chea Sokhom, Ty Sokha, 18, Vann Pauch Sopheak, 18, and Sim Tha, 22, took control of the kindergarten that left Canadian toddler, Maxim Michalik, 2, dead. Later on Thursday, police arrested a fifth suspect, Ul Samnang.
The five suspects were taken to Siem Reap provincial police headquarters on Friday morning where at least two of the suspects were seen in their underwear and one had a bandage on his head.
Paraded before reporters, Chea Sokhom was handed an unloaded K54 handgun, the type with which he was allegedly armed during Thursday’s hostage taking, for pictures.
Siem Reap deputy military police commander Prak Chanthoeun said on Friday that during interrogation, Chea Sokhom admitted the four men who conducted the raid had actually intended to kidnap Bae Sang Man’s daughter, niece and nephew.
Chea Sokhom told police he wanted revenge because his South Korean boss had slapped him in the face.
Bae Sang Man refuted the statement. “I trusted [Chea Sokhom],” he said outside his combination souvenir shop, massage parlor and restaurant on Friday.
Prak Chanthoeun said Chea Sokhom allegedly went to his home district of Kien Svay, bought a gun and returned to Siem Reap to take revenge.
The three other men had also recently arrived in Siem Reap from Kien Svay, Prak Chanthoeun said.
Chea Sohei said he did not know why his cousin tried to take hostages. “I don’t know why he did this and everyone in my family wants to know why,” he said.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, attributed the hostage taking to increasing unemployment, poverty and drug abuse, and warned that Cambodia should be prepared for similar incidents in the future.
Cambodia “is dangerous now, even if people don’t want to admit it,” she said. “More and more we’re going to have problems,” she said, adding that schools should start asking the Interior Ministry for protection, rather than relying on private security guards.
NGOs have not been allowed to visit the four suspects seized following the raid, Thun Saray, director of local rights group Adhoc said.
“It’s a high profile case. The government doesn’t want any NGO people to meet with them in jail. Only police,” Thun Saray said.
Thun Saray added that it seemed strange that the men would hold children hostage at an international school to get money, rather than attacking a gold shop or committing a street robbery.
“It’s the first time in our history [that] there is a kidnapping like this,” Thun Saray said. “It’s a little bit strange that they’d like to get the money in this way.” He said he wanted more information on the case before drawing a conclusion about what happened.
The hostage taking seemed remarkably amateur, said Chea Vannath of the Center for Social Development. “It’s so flagrant that they miscalculated the whole thing,” Chea Vannath said. “Like the CFF attack it was so unprofessional, so maybe someone manipulated,” the suspects, she said.
But, she added that the four men were more likely to be “a group of immature people watching too many videos.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.
(Additional reporting by William Shaw)