A mentally ill former soldier climbed onto the roof of a market in Oddar Meanchey province on Thursday and repeatedly sprayed bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle into the air in an apparent protest against a recent land grab, police and witnesses said.
Pheng Phan, 52, a soldier during the civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, clambered atop the market in Trapaing Prasat district at about 9 a.m. and began shouting and firing the weapon, provincial police chief Men Ly said.
“First he fired his gun three times, then our police arrived and he fired it again. Then, after we surrounded the market to find a way to arrest him safely, he fired it three more times,” he said.
Mr. Ly said Mr. Phan eventually grew thirsty and finally climbed down from the roof and into a market stall, at which point police devised a strategy for apprehending him.
“We spent about three hours trying to find a way to arrest him: by putting sleeping pills into a bottle of purified water,” Mr. Ly said, adding that market vendors who knew Mr. Phan slid the bottle to him.
“Then our forces pushed down the gate of the stall where he had hidden and arrested him at about 11:50 a.m.,” Mr. Ly said.
According to a market vendor who asked not to be named, Mr. Phan had been yelling: “He who grabbed my land, give it back to my children to live on,” just prior to his arrest.
Mr. Phan regularly drank coffee at the market and had previously claimed to have been beaten by soldiers who took his land, another vendor said.
Mr. Ly said the police were now investigating how the mentally ill man had managed to get ahold of an AK-47.
“His daughter said that his brother, son and friends are soldiers, so we are working to find the source [of the weapon],” he said, adding that Mr. Ly was being held at the district police station.
Although vendors on Thursday claimed Mr. Phan had been a Khmer Rouge solider, his daughter had told police that he had been a soldier in the Cambodian People’s Armed Forces (CPAF), the army of Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s State of Cambodia from 1989 to 1993, according to Mr. Ly.
“According to his daughter, he used to be a CPAF soldier and got malaria and became mentally ill, and a few years ago, he burned down his wooden house,” he said.
The area surrounding Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey, including Trapaing Prasat, was the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and only fell to the government in 1998.