Rogue Commander Among Kidnap Suspects

Police are zeroing in on a major kidnapping ring responsible for at least seven abductions that netted almost $500,000 in ransom, officials said Mon­day.

Authorities have arrested seven suspects and named 11 others still at large, they said.

Among those being sought by police is a rogue Kompong Speu military commander suspected of involvement in the gruesome summary execution last Novem­ber of four cow thieves in Kom­pong Speu province, military and police officials said.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a warrant Dec 27 for Pak Chhorn, 46, an RCAF captain who commands the Baset district in Kompong Speu province, accor­­ding to an arrest warrant signed by the court’s Investi­ga­ting Judge Nup Sophon. He is accused of participating in the kidnapping ring with at least 17 other men, Bith Kim Hong, depu­ty chief of municipal police, said.

Pak Chhorn fled after two of his men were arrested last month, and he is believed to be hiding in the jungle with at least eight armed men somewhere between Kompong Speu and Takeo provinces, said Men Si­born, military police commander for Kompong Speu province.

The 18 identified suspects are charged by the Phnom Penh court with suspected acts of terrorism, including the abduction of seven businessmen that netted $489,000 in ransom money, Bith Kim Hong said. “The group is charged with crimes that they carried out since 1997 in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kompong Speu,” he said.

One suspect was apprehended in Kandal province last month and two taken in Kompong Speu province. But it was the arrest of four additional members of the gang in Kompong Speu on Dec 24, Dec 26 and Dec 27 that led to Pak Chhorn’s warrant and those of 10 others, Bith Kim Hong said.

The four people implicated 13 alleged accomplices. But the court issued only 11 arrest warrants based on their statements in the days that followed, Bith Kim Hong said. They had insufficient information to charge the other two members of the ring, he said.

Bith Kim Hong said Pak Chhorn and the other 10 charged were not targeted earlier because the police were still investigating and compiling evidence. Pak Chhorn is not believed to be the kidnapping ring’s leader. But the court now believes that at least ccccc

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