A sleepy village in Kampong Thom province was the unlikely site of a major gold heist over the weekend, as a gang of heavily armed robbers raided a local market in broad daylight, making away with more than $250,000 worth of cash and jewellery before fleeing into the jungle.
As of yesterday evening, police were still seeking the arrests of the six suspects, who witnesses say were armed with four AK-47 assault rifles as they raided Stong Market’s jewellery section on Sunday afternoon, stealing money and jewellery from five different vendors.
Yang Sam, Stong district police chief, said a major operation was under way to find the suspects, with officers from the police, military police and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces surrounding the forest, waiting for the alleged jewel thieves to emerge.
“This is the biggest-ever robbery in this market, but our authorities will put every effort into capturing those thieves and bringing them to the court,” he said.
According to Sam, the suspects are accused of stealing about 101 damleung, or 3.78 kilograms, of gold, and 64 damleung, or 2.4 kilograms, of platinum. According to current market rates, this amounts to about $237,000.
They also stole more than $17,000 in cash, largely US dollars, Thai baht and riel, Sam said.
Chak Chanreith, chief of the Kampong Thom provincial police’s crime office, said that authorities were attempting to close in on the criminals, and had cut off access from the forest into local villages.
One of the victim’s of Sunday’s heist, jewellery vendor Oeng Bunchhay, said that he alone had $3,000 and 10 damleung of gold stolen by the armed thieves.
Moments before the market raid, Bunchhay said the suspects came to his stall posing as customers.
“I didn’t know that they were thieves, because at first four of them got off their motorbikes and started bargaining over prices from one store to the next,”
But “then the other two got off their motorbikes and broke the glass and started to collect all my jewellery and money. The four were standing pointing their rifles at us and they threatened to kill us if we shouted.”
All five vendors followed the thieves’ orders and survived the heist unscathed. But, left shaken by the incident, Bunchhay said he did not feel safe to resume business.
“Those thieves have not been arrested, so we, the jewellers, cannot run our businesses, since at this moment, we are scared.”