Seven Arrests Made in Siem Reap Hostage Death

siem reap province – Police have arrested two more suspects in connection with Thursday’s hostage drama at the Siem Reap Inter­national School, bringing to seven the number of suspects arrested so far, including a man accused of pro­viding the gun that allegedly killed 2-year-old Maxim Mich­alik.

However, questions still remain as to how the Canadian toddler died after police admitted they fired at the classroom several times during the day and following re­ports that one hostage-taker may have used the boy as a hu­man shield.

“Many people are focused on how the boy was shot, and they got word from the teacher who said the police bullet hit the boy,” Ou Em, chief of Siem Reap’s serious crimes unit, said on Sunday.

“[The teacher] told us that she did not see who shot the boy. She was taking cover from the shooting, and the gunman was standing next to the boy,” he said.

Ending the hostage standoff, police arrested Chea Sokhom, 23, Ty Sokha, 18, Vann Pauch Soph­eak, 18, and Sim Thol, 22, who is also known as Mann Thol.

Later on Thursday a fifth suspect, Ul Samnang, was arrested. Though he did not take part, po­lice have accused Ul Samnang of knowing about the plot.

The sixth suspect, Un Ny, was arrested in Poipet on Saturday for allegedly selling the gun to Chea Sokhom, who is accused of shooting the Canadian toddler, on June 11 for $150 in their home village of Prek Takeo in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district.

On Sunday police also arrested Sam Mao, the security guard on duty at the school when the four men entered and took the children hostage.

“We arrested him because usually the school’s gate is locked but he left the gate unlocked when the four men came and were able to simply push it open,” said Bou Bun­­­hang, deputy prosecutor of Siem Reap provincial court.

“We think this might have been pre-planned,” he said.

The four hostage-takers have all been identified as coming from Kan­dal province’s Samrong Thom commune.

Samrong Thom commune po­lice Deputy Chief Thong Chan­bol confirmed Sunday that Un Ny was in the village last weekend and held a funeral anniversary for his father. He said Un Ny moved to Poipet about two years ago where he is allegedly involved in petty crime. All seven were charged in court Sunday.

The four hostage-takers have been charged with kidnapping, premeditated murder and illegal use of a weapon. The other three men have been charged with conspiring to kidnap, conspiring to murder and conspiring to illegally use a weapon.

No court dates have been set.

Police said Thursday that Chea Sok­hom has admitted that he convinced his three friends to don masks and enter the school to kidnap his South Korean employer’s children but they mistakenly en­tered the wrong classroom.

According to police, Chea Sok­hom had been a driver for Bae Sang Man and claimed that his boss had slapped him at one point, and he wanted revenge. Bae Sang Man has denied he ever struck Chea Sokhom.

On Friday, Siem Reap Inter­national School Vice-Principal Daw Khin Myat Swe and Siem Reap provincial military police Deputy Commander Prak Chan­thoeun recounted what took place during the six hours the children and teachers were held hostage.

Myat Swe first realized something was wrong at around 9 am. She was with a group of people watch­ing a pavilion being set up for the school’s end-of-year celebration when someone behind her started yelling about a gun.

“I was busy and didn’t see them come in,” Myat Swe said.

She turned to see two men push a teacher into a classroom and follow inside.

She ran to her office—Myat Swe adamantly refuted an earlier witness’ statements that teachers and principles ran from the school —and called police even as teachers gathered the other students together and hid in another part of the building.

Prak Chanthoeun was in his of­fice when he received a call and quickly rushed to the scene.

At the same time, co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy left an Asean summit with police chiefs from other countries being held in Siem Reap town.

When Prak Chanthoeun ar­rived, a mobile phone was delivered to the hostage-takers by a teacher who had also been taken captive and a man who claimed to be the group’s leader answered.

“I called him nephew and asked how old he was,” Prak Chan­thoeun said. “I was nice and friendly. I asked: ‘What do you want, nephew?’”

The man on the other end quickly told Prak his demands: $1,000 in cash, six assault rifles, two rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and a 12-seat minivan.

“The money was not a problem, but the guns were,” Prak Chan­thoeun said. “We stepped back and thought about it. If we brought them guns, we knew they would shoot everyone.”

Police moved into the compound when they realized the hostage-takers were all in one classroom. The students who had been taken to another part of the school were quickly ushered out of the compound, but Myat Swe re­fused to leave and instead watched the classroom, located only a few meters across from her office, through a window.

“I would never leave,” she said. “They are my children.”

For several hours, the negotiations went back and forth.

Prak Chanthoeun said the man on the other end of the phone threatened to kill all the children who had been taken hostage if the de­mands weren’t met.

“He demanded more guns,” Prak Chanthoeun said. “He also threatened that if the money came late, he would kill someone. Earlier he’d threatened if he didn’t get weapons, he would kill someone.”

At the time, it was believed there were six men inside, though police later reported there were four men with one handgun and several knives between them.

“He kept saying: ‘Hurry up, hurry up or I will kill all the children,’” Prak Chanthoeun said.

Myat Swe said that inside the classroom of hostages a teacher, who she wouldn’t name, was trying to keep the students busy reading and singing.

“They were very peaceful, very calm,” she said. “It was only when they started shooting that they started crying.”

Eventually, Hok Lundy ap­prov­ed a plan in the afternoon to give the men $30,000 and a minivan but no weapons, Prak Chan­thoeun said. The men, however, didn’t ap­prove.

Sometime between 1 pm and 2 pm, a shot rang out from inside the classroom. Prak Chanthoeun furiously punched numbers on his mo­bile phone and when the other man answered, the deputy military police commander asked what had happened.

“He said: ‘I’m just shooting for fun.’”

The $30,000 was delivered to the classroom and a van was driven in­to the compound, but still the men refused to leave until they received their guns. It was then that police decided to launch “the offensive,” as Prak Chanthoeun de­scribed it.

Officers inside had inched down a hallway and managed to get close to the classroom door.

They were ordered to shoot the door, which was made of glass and metal, so they could reach in and un­lock it. Several shots were fired, and the officers moved in to open the door, but were forced back when the gunman threatened them. This happened several times, Prak Chan­thoeun said.

Outside, parent Oliviero Ru­sconi watched in horror as police opened fire on the building where his 3-year-old son Paco was being held captive.

Then Prak Chanthoeun decided to shoot the classroom’s glass window to scare the four men inside, though he didn’t trust his own officers to do the shooting. He fired two shots, saying he aimed high to make sure he didn’t hit anyone.

The hostage-takers then apparently lost their nerve and dropped their demand for weapons, instead saying they just wanted to get out alive.

As the children were taken out of the classroom, Myat Swe said she was trying to take an inventory of who was with the hostage-takers and who was being left behind.

Rusconi, who was standing nearby, saw the van start to move to­wards the gate when police surrounded it and he heard gunfire. He could see his son inside, he said, cowering as police rushed forward seconds later to smash the van’s windows and pull the captors and children out.

“If we had not grabbed them, he would have shot more children,” Prak Chanthoeun said, though he admitted police did not know at that time that 2-year-old Maxim Michalik was dead.

“All I saw was red, and my son was inside,” Rusconi recalled Sun­day. Fortunately Paco was not in­jured.

The four men were dragged out of the van, and angry parents de­scended on them, beating them un­til police stopped them and ar­rested the men.

When asked if he thought the op­eration was a success, Prak Chan­thoeun shook his head.

“You can judge for yourself, but he shot a boy and it is not a success even though we are happy we have them now,” he said.

 

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