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.
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
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.