Kompong Thom Bandits Strike During Lull

Kompong Thom’s notorious bandit gangs have struck back at a recent police campaign to wipe them out by staging two kidnappings after police units returned to Phnom Penh to provide security for last week’s Asean Summit, a police official said.

Just days after the Interior Ministry’s elite Flying Tigers police unit were recalled on Oct 30 for Asean Summit duty, three heavily armed bandits dressed in military uniforms kidnapped a family of four and demanded $1,000 for their release.

Then on Sunday, five bandits armed with AK-47 assault rifles kidnapped a second family of four, bound them with chains and marched them into the jungle with a demand of $3,750 for their safe return.

Kompong Thom Provincial Police Chief Hang Sithim said on Thursday that both sets of hos­tages were rescued after some of the ransom money was paid and police battled with the kidnappers.

Hang Sithim said police raided the first gang’s jungle hideout in Baray district on the night of Oct 30 after relatives of the hostages handed more than $500 to the kidnappers.

“After the police exchanged gunfire with the bandits they were able to rescue the victims. All of them are safe and alive,” Hang Sithim said.

The following day, police arrested suspect Kheang Khoeun, 40, a former bandit leader who was imprisoned for kidnapping in 2000 but released from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Oct 26.

“Four days [after being re­leased from prison] he became the ringleader of the kidnappers. Now he is in Kompong Thom prison again,” Hang Sithim said.

On Sunday, police tracked the location of the second kidnapping gang in Baray district’s Tropeng Svay jungle, but only after the relatives of the hostages had paid a ransom of $1,000.

“We were about 100 meters away exchanging gunfire to rescue the victims. The victims were lucky, they laid on the ground and then ran, still tied in chains, to the police side,” Hang Sithim said.

More than 250 police officers and 10 teams from the Flying Tigers motorcycle squad were deployed to Kompong Thom’s Baray district in September, the scene of extensive banditry since 1996.

Since the beginning of this year, Kompong Thom bandits were responsible for 34 armed robberies, 16 killings, eight mass kidnappings, two rapes, four attempted murders and two unsuccessful armed robberies.

The crime wave resulted in a total of 23 deaths, caused serious injury to another 53 people and the loss of 74 cows and buffaloes, according to police statistics.

Hang Sithim blamed the up­surge in banditry on the withdrawal of Interior Ministry police for the Asean Summit.

Some 24 police officers have been sent to Baray district to reinforce security, Hang Sithim said, adding that four bandit ringleaders are still at large.

Locals and human rights workers claimed in September that some members of the police and military are working with the Baray district bandits.


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