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Cops end notorious spree

An infamous alleged armed robber – thought by locals to have the strength of a giant and no fear of death – was arrested in Kampong Thom province on Monday after a 10-year-plus spree of suspected robberies, kidnappings and killings that spanned six Cambodian provinces, police said yesterday.

Brigadier General Phan Sopheng, police chief of Kampong Thom, told the Post yesterday that the operation to arrest Tong Houn, 48 – an alleged criminal gang leader so well known in certain parts of the country that he had reached mythic proportions – was the result of a three-year undercover investigation, and also resulted in the arrest of two alleged accomplices, Sot Soeun, 33, and Nhie Vai, 34.

The trio was sent to the provincial prison, added Sopheng, but two other suspected gang members escaped.

“We had arrested them this time after our secret investigating agents reported from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district that the chief thief planned to rob citizens in Kampong Cham province’s Chamkar Leu district and Kampong Thom’s Baray district,” he said.

According to Sopheng, the arrest was made after a brief shootout – in which a police officer was shot in the shoulder – along the road in Kampong Thom’s Santuk district. Houn’s younger brother, Tong Him, was killed in a similar shootout in 2006.  

In Monday’s arrest, police seized a K-54 pistol, two cartridges and a motorbike.

Sopheng went on to say that Houn had a reputation for ruthlessness and brashness, and even taunted police after his arrest.

“He threatened the police forces, saying, ‘Now you’ve arrested me, why don’t kill me?’” he said, adding that Houn’s rumoured strength lived up to legend, and that it took “five to six police” just to restrain him.

Sopheng said he had six outstanding warrants for Houn in Kampong Thom alone.

So far, citizens have been congratulating police on the arrest, said Sopheng, but now there are concerns over whether a well-known prisoner like Houn could prove difficult to hold in Kampong Thom’s relatively low-security prison.  

“I am requesting to the provincial governor and chief prosecutor to transmit this robber leader to Prey Sar or Trapaing Thlong prison,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kim Yuthana at yuthana.kim@phnompenhpost.com

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