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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gold vendors face on-going threats from armed robbers

Gold vendors face on-going threats from armed robbers

Daring bands of thieves often bristling with automatic assault rifles, have been

smashing into the homes and shops of goldsmiths and stealing staggering sums of cash

and precious metals.

Slack security tactics, stacks of uninsured wealth, and close scrutiny of victims'

modus operandi, have defined several violent break-ins. It's a spree of battlefield

weapons, home invasions and lucrative larceny that has made for a potent criminal


Just past midnight on June 4, five thieves armed with AK-47s broke through the backdoor

of sleeping gold vendor Phon Sophal's home some 10 km outside Phnom Penh in Mokh

Kampoul district, Kandal province.

Then, tearing open his mosquito net with the muzzle of a rifle, the thieves trained

their weapons at his wife and 8-year-old son. Sophal was pistol-whipped into submission

and bound- hands backward and face to the floor. At gunpoint, the robbers ordered

his wife Pril Pum, 35, to collect the family's money and valuables.

The home invasion lasted 30 minutes and its bounty was substantial. The burglars

left the home with 49 million riel (worth about $12,000), $13,000 in US dollars,

40 damleung of gold [valued at $800 apiece, $32,000 total], and $1,000 in diamond


The five thieves left the house with some $60,000. According to Ek Lon, deputy chief

of Mokh Kampoul district, three of the robbers were sighted walking to their escape

vehicle with two automatic weapons poking from a pillowcase. In four years on the

force, it is the biggest heist that Lon can recall.

Urban incidents

City-dwelling gold vendors have also seen a string of audacious, armed robberies.

Last month, three other gunmen stormed a Psar Thmei gold shop after hours and assaulted

a middle-aged couple. According to Phnom Penh police, the robbers threatened the

couple with knives and a handgun, en route to leaving through the smashed entrance

with an incredible $99,000 in cash, $22,000 worth of jewelry

On the evening of June 10 a Psar Sammaki gold vendor was robbed in front of his house

by pistol-wielding robbers who had laid in wait. The 42-year-old victim Khchoa Song

said when he arrived home, his wife and 23-year-old daughter stepped out of the car

to the leveled handguns of four robbers. His wife and daughter were punched, threatened

with abduction and robbed of 40 damleung of platinum, at $500 a piece, for $20,000

in total.

Police now are investigating how the robbers knew the address of the gold vendor's

house, ready to pounce on his family.

In a brazen two-stage theft in broad daylight in Siem Reap province, three robbers

wielding a lone AK-47 looted two gold vendors at Kampongklang market in Psar Kampongklang

village. The thieves first stormed the shop in the market took 30 damleung of gold

and 12 damleung of platinum and 5 million riel.

Then they abducted an employee at gunpoint and were led to the vendor's flat and

storeroom, where they absconded with another 25 damleung of gold and platinum.

The robbers escaped safely

Sok Sovanphalla, 46, a gold vendor in Kandal market said the biggest risk for gold

vendors was the transport of valuable items from the home to the market.

"I am very concerned about my security, but I have no choice. I have only this

career. So I do this everyday depending on fate. I have been a gold vendor for 10

years," she said. "I am a bit safer than others because my shop is close

to Psar Kandal police headquarter and, anyway, my shop has less gold than others."

Police spread thin

Investigations of Phon Sophal case in Mokh Kampoul district, were met with partial


Kang Sophal, a policeman said by June 7, local police had arrested 4 suspects-three

robbers and one brick kiln worker who allegedly tipped off the robbers. According

to Sophal, there are more than 100 police on hand for security in Mokh Kampoul. "We

work too hard," Sophal said. "We get about 200 liters of gasoline to ride

motorbikes and patrol 24 hours per day."

Souy Siheang, 38, brother of Phon Sophal, said he did not blame the police for the

robbery. He reserved a stern tongue lashing for his younger brother, who's house

was simply unsafe.

"I don't understand why he [his younger brother] built a house that someone

could just kick their way into and break out," Siheang said. "We are all

worried. But at the same time, we must be very careful ourselves. Seventy percent

of security depends on the homeowner, for the other 30 percent we must rely on the


"Normally we have to protect our assets by ourselves. If we do not protect ourselves,

the authorities cannot guarantee our safety," he said. "Honestly, even

the authorities will take our money if we leave it out."

Siheang said in his home he has two dogs for security.



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