Police Arrest Suspect in Koh Rong Attack

Sihanoukville police on Sunday arrested one of the men behind last week’s violent attack on two foreign nationals on Koh Rong island, identifying the suspect as a staff member at the guesthouse where the assault took place, according to officials.

Finnish national Jouni Niemi, 49, who owns the Broken Heart Guest House on the island’s Long Beach, and Canadian Michael Hay, 27, who works at the hotel, were attacked late Thursday night by a group of men armed with knives and clubs that made away with some $3,000, a laptop and other electronics, police said.

According to a doctor’s report, the victims were checked into Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital the following day, Mr. Hay with an 11-cm gash to his head.

On Sunday, one of the suspected attackers was arrested, said Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Chhit Sokhon.

“One suspect related to the Koh Rong incident has been arrested. I don’t know the name,” Mr. Sokhon said, adding that the suspect was a Cambodian man employed by Mr. Niemi.

“The suspect worked for the victim as a member of his staff,” the governor said, declining to comment further on the case.

Sihanoukville police chief Phol Phorsda confirmed that a suspect was arrested, but said he was not aware of his relationship to the two victims.

“We arrested one suspect today on Koh Rong and sent him to the Sihanoukville City police headquarters for questioning. We are still looking for other suspects,” he said.

Lying in a bed at Calmette Hospital on Sunday, Mr. Hay was mostly unable to speak—only his swollen face and bloodshot eyes were visible under a mass of bandages —but used his fingers to indicate that he and Mr. Niemi were attacked by two or three men over the course of about 10 minutes.

Asked if he knew the group, he shook his head.

Mr. Niemi has been discharged and is recovering from less severe injuries at his home in Phnom Penh, according to Finnish national Tiia Komulainen, 32, who works with the victims on Koh Rong.

“It was a robbery,” Ms. Komulainen said at Mr. Hay’s bedside.

“They were going into the bungalows and a few [guests] were hiding…and when they were almost in the bungalow [occupied by Mr. Hay and Mr. Niemi] they attacked and started to hit straight to the head,” she said.

Ms. Komulainen said the assailants did not have knives, as police reported, and stole her countryman’s backpack, which contained cash, an iPad, a camera and a mobile phone.

She said petty theft had been increasing on Koh Rong of late, but that she was nevertheless shocked by the brutality of the attack on her colleagues.

“I never thought something like this would happen,” Ms. Komulainen said.

Last week’s attack comes just days after Interior Minister Sar Kheng deployed a team of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials to Sihanoukville to probe a recent spike in violent crime involving foreigners, some of it mafia-related, according to officials.

Koh Rong, a popular backpacker destination, has also gained notoriety for sporadic violence over the past few years, including the 2013 murder of American Katherine Grgich. The lone suspect in that murder, Yan Yoeun, remains at large.

Mr. Sokhon, the provincial governor, admitted that the rise in crime could have a negative impact on the public’s perception of Cambodia’s coast.

“This strongly affects the image of our province and the feeling foreigners have toward the area when these incidents happen. It’s even worse when this issue spreads out to the world,” he said, adding that security had been stepped up in Sihanoukville in response to the uptick in crime.

“First, we have assigned commune police to do inspections on local people coming in and out [of their communes]. Second, we have to inspect the visa and passports of the foreigners. And third, we are doing inspections on foreigners operating businesses,” he said.

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