Heavily-armed military police stormed a roadside restaurant on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Friday to arrest two men believed to be responsible for a string of deadly robberies, but were quickly drawn into a firefight that saw both suspects shot and killed, officials said.
The shootout followed a chain of events that began early Friday morning with the execution of a small-time fabric dealer.
The victim, Din Darith, 21, had been driving his 2015 Honda Dream through Tuol Kok district shortly after 5 a.m. when four men on two other motorbikes blocked his way, according to Phnom Penh military police commander Rath Srieng.
One of the men then raised a pistol and shot Din Darith once in the head before driving off with his motorbike, Major General Srieng said.
The brazen armed robbery prompted a manhunt by municipal military police, who tracked down two of the bandits about two hours later.
“Military police arrested the two suspects in Russei Keo district’s Svay Pak commune,” Maj. Gen. Srieng said. “After we questioned them, they gave up the location of [the rest of] their group and we went to search for them at the Santouch Mlop Tnaut restaurant.”
At the open-air restaurant in Ponhea Poan commune, Prek Pnov district, the two other robbers were snacking on river mussels in the company of two women when military police arrived on the scene, according to commune chief Kuo Oeun, who arrived later to interview witnesses.
Maj. Gen. Srieng said about 10 military police entered the premises at about 11 a.m., guns drawn. Photographs of the raid published by the local Fresh News service show the officers kitted out for urban combat, clad in helmets, goggles, kneepads and bulletproof vests.
District military police commander Phuong Sophy said two of his officers, in plainclothes, entered first to scope out the scene, followed by the more heavily armed municipal force.
“We went to surround them, but the two suspects recognized us and ran away” into a mango plantation, Mr. Sophy said, adding that one of the men then drew a pistol and opened fire on the pursuing officers.
“They shot at the military police from about 30 meters away and the military police shot to defend themselves.”
While no officers or bystanders were injured, the military police bullets proved fatal, Maj. Gen. Srieng said, explaining that both men were killed instantly.
“If they had not shot at the military police, and let us arrest them, we would not have fired,” he said.
The military police commander said the women who had been eating with the dead men were also arrested after officers found a handgun in one of their purses.
He said all six suspects—whose names he claimed to have forgotten—were believed to be members of a violent gang responsible for a number of recent motorbike robberies in Meanchey and Sen Sok districts that have resulted in at least three deaths.
The deadly robbery of the fabric-seller that led to Friday’s shootout was just the latest in a series of similar crimes committed across the city over the past few weeks.
Most recently, a young welder was shot in the back for his 2013 Honda Dream after being held up on the Kop Srov causeway in Sen Sok.