An armed gang opened fire outside Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court Friday morning, injuring three policemen and making off with two convicted robbers sentenced minutes before to nine years in prison.
The two prisoners were being led out of the courthouse to a waiting police vehicle when 10 men with a Toyota Camry motorbikes shot first into the air and then at police officers, witnesses said.
“I heard the shooting, I thought it was my friend [firing a shot] to get them into the truck,” said policeman Pheung Dara, who was pushing the two struggling prisoners toward a police vehicle.
The two 18-year-old prisoners, Kong Hok and Chantrea Ponleu, were still handcuffed and wearing prison clothing when they were hustled away while other gang members blocked the path of pursuing police, witnesses said.
Police did not return fire, they said, for fear of hitting bystanders. Pheung Dara, and policemen Khann Saroeun and Chuop Siek are being treated at Calmette Hospital for leg injuries. A fourth victim, identified as Ka, is the pregnant girlfriend of Chantrea Ponleu and is also being treated for minor injuries, police said.
Police later found the getaway car abandoned outside Phnom Penh where the men threw two hand grenades and stole another car to continue their flight.
The gangsters shot dead a motorcycle taxi driver and wounded a passerby as the chase continued into neighboring Kompong Speu province where police shot Kong Hok through the head during a fierce gunbattle, according to officers.
The Cambodian cabinet Friday amended laws on penal procedures, upping the maximum sentence for first degree murder to life in prison from 20 years, and second degree murder to 10 to 15 years. Police will now also be able to detain suspects for questioning for 72 hours without charging them, up from 48 hours.
The measures are part of an effort by authorities to crack down on a recent spate of violent crime which has engulfed the city, awash with arms as a result of decades of civil war.
(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse)