Disgruntled Staffer May Have Led Gunmen

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)



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