‘Gangster’ Arrested for Arson

A young man with a history of drug abuse and erratic behavior was arrested in Kompong Chhnang City on Wednesday for attempting to burn down his cousin’s house in the middle of the night, police said on Thursday.

Siv Sarith, a 34-year-old market vendor, was sleeping with his wife and children inside their small wooden house in the city’s Phsar Chhnang commune when he heard something shatter on the roof at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday, said deputy city police chief Chhay Khemroth.

When Mr. Sarith went outside to investigate, he saw flames licking the structure and, in the darkness, his 23-year-old cousin Mort Muthmaravy speeding away on a motorbike, Mr. Khemroth said.

The vendor pulled his family to safety as neighbors scrambled to douse the flames with water, only managing to extinguish the blaze after it had charred half the house.

Six hours later, police had made three arrests.

“At about 8 a.m., we detained three suspects for questioning, but released two…because they were not involved in the case,” Mr. Khemroth said, explaining that Mr. Muthmaravy was still in the custody of Kompong Chhnang provincial police, and was the primary suspect.

The police official said Mr. Muthmaravy had been drinking with the other two suspects—two friends around the same age—at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday and unexpectedly asked one of them to drive him to a buy a bottle of gasoline for his motorbike. The friend complied, and after purchasing the fuel, the three men parted ways, Mr. Khemroth said.

Commune police chief Rin Ratha said Mr. Muthmaravy was unemployed and well known to local authorities, having been arrested three times: once for using drugs, once for “intentional violence,” and once for smashing the windshield of a car with a rock.

“He acted like a gangster in the past,” Mr. Ratha said, adding that after each incident, Mr. Muthmaravy was lectured and released.

Both Mr. Khemroth and Mr. Ratha said that because the suspect had not confessed to the arson attack, his motives were unclear.

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