Two Police Officers Injured During Shootout With Robbers

Authorities in Kratie province are searching for a gang of six armed robbers who shot and seriously injured two police officers during a half-hour firefight with more than 50 officers following a botched heist at the home of a wealthy merchant on Friday night, officials said Monday.

The target of the robbery, 65-year-old cassava trader Pek Phean, is being treated for major head trauma after one of the intruders beat her with the butt of his rifle, according to Huot Lim Heang, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau, who led the failed operation to apprehend the six.

Wearing ski masks and brandishing a pair of AK-47 assault ri­fle, a Glock pistol and a hatchet, the men en­tered Ms. Phean’s Snuol district property—a walled compound that includes her house and a warehouse for cassava storage—shortly before 8 a.m. on Fri­day and fled into the forest under a hail of bullets at about 9 p.m., Mr. Lim Heang said.

Only the businesswoman and her daughter, 24-year-old Neak Hoeun, were home at the time, her husband having left to call on a neighbor, he said.

While two of the men stood sentry at the gate, he said, the other four walked into the house, leveled their guns at Ms. Phean and her daughter, and demanded the keys to a safe containing cash and jewelry.

“One of the suspects asked the warehouse owner where the keys were and she said, ‘They are with my husband, who went to visit our neighbors,’” he said. “So that suspect used the butt of his rifle to beat Ms. Pek Phean on the head, badly injuring her.”

When the daughter began crying loudly, the bureau chief said, the robbers then turned on her. “When she yelled, one guy slapped her multiple times across the face and shot in the air to warn her to stop.”

“At the time, several children living nearby came to have a look because they thought someone was using firecrackers,” he said, adding that while the bandits quickly scared off the curious children, Ms. Phean’s husband also heard the gunshots from his neighbor’s house and came to investigate.

“When the husband arrived on the motorbike, one man used his rifle to fire at him: the husband. The husband jumped over his motorbike and ran to a commune council member’s house,” he said.

The local official informed commune police about the unfolding robbery, and they in turn contacted district police, Mr. Lim Heang said.

“About 50 police officers surrounded the area, asking them to drop their weapons, but the suspects did not listen and shot at two police officers in a car” who arrived at the scene first, he said, identifying the pair as Uch Sophana, head of the district force’s technical and scientific office, and Kim Chay Leang, another district officer.

One of the bullets lodged in Mr. Sophana’s femur, shattering the bone, while the other passed through Kim Chay Leang’s left arm, he said.

What followed, the bureau chief said, was a 30-minute shootout in the dark that resulted in no further injuries but allowed the suspects to flee into the woods surrounding Ms. Phean’s home.

“We could not arrest anyone because it was too dark. We could not chase them too closely because they had weapons,” he said, add­ing that the officers pursued the men until midnight.

The injured officers were rushed to the provincial referral hospital, and Mr. Sophana, who also lost a lot of blood from the wound in his thigh, was sent on to a facility in Vietnam for further treatment on Sunday, according to Mr. Lim Heang. Ms. Phean is recovering from her head wounds at a private clinic, he said.

“It’s a terrible case,” he said.

Deputy provincial police chief Oum Phy said police had identified four of the six suspects but declined to name the men or discuss the investigation in more detail.

Friday night’s incident was just the latest in a succession of armed, often violent and occasionally dead­ly robberies that have rocked the country in recent months. The epidemic has caught the attention of Prime Minister Hun Sen and drawn the ire of In­terior Minister Sar Kheng, who has threatened to demote senior police officials over the episodes.

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