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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - School siege ends, one child dead

School siege ends, one child dead

school.jpg
school.jpg

© Timothy Wheeler

Someone holds up photos taken at the scene of a child being carried and one of the hostage-takers subsequently beaten by the gathered crowd. Chea Sokhom, 23, has been accused by police of masterminding the siege.

A3-year-old Canadian boy was shot dead June 16 when four masked men held 28 kindergarten

students and five teachers hostage for seven hours at the Siem Reap International

School.

Chea Sokhom, 23, from Kien Svay district, Kandal province, was the leader of the

four hostage takers and the man responsible for killing the child, police said.

Sokhom was the only hostage-taker armed when they entered the school building in

the morning, later demanding six AK-47s, six grenades, $1,000 and a 12-seater van.

Siem Reap police and military authorities brought the siege to an end at 3:10 p.m.

in dramatic circumstances, arresting the four hostage-takers.

Conflicting reports have emerged on the fate of the three other hostage-takers, Khim

Chem, 20, Van Tisopheak, 22 and Sin Tha, 22.

National Police Chief Hok Lundy, who was at the scene, announced in the afternoon

that the three men had been killed during their escape attempt, said David Reader,

British Ambassador, by phone.

But Prak Chanthoeun, the deputy military police chief and chief negotiator throughout

the siege, said the three men were being held in police custody.

Chanthoeun said at this stage the motive for the siege appeared to be robbery, not

terrorism.

Sokhom said he targeted the international school because "I saw the students

were rich".

Witness accounts say the men arrived at the school around 8 a.m., pulled masks over

their heads and then entered the building.

They captured one class of 28 kindergarten students aged 2 to 6 years old, and five

teachers: two international and three Cambodian.

Other students and teachers reportedly escaped the school grounds and the authorities

were notified.

"I saw the school manager call the police for help and then 20 minutes later

the police arrived," said Thouen, 25, a barber who works across the street from

the school. "At 9 a.m. I heard one bullet, and at 12 p.m. I heard them shoot

one more."

Chanthoeun said he was shouting through the windows outside the classroom to the

hostage takers to understand what they wanted, and then he passed them two mobiles

through the window.

"At the beginning they demanded $1000, six grenades, six shotguns and the van,"

Chanthoeun said. "But during the negotiations we persuaded them to accept $10,000

and the van and not the guns."

Chanthoeun said he delivered the $10,000 through the window at 2:30 p.m, yet the

hostage takers showed no sign of releasing the children and teachers.

Police broke the stalemate by sending in 15 commandos to surround the classroom.

Sending off two warning shots, and giving them a last chance to come out before the

officers entered the classroom, Chanthoeun said he spoke to Sokhom immediately after

the shots and noticed a change in his voice.

"They were beginning to get scared, they didn't want anything anymore,"

Chontheoun said. "We told them if they came out and released the children they

wouldn't be arrested - they can take the van and money - just release the children."

The four men, wearing baseball caps and masks, left the school and took a Cambodian

and a Filipino teacher and several children into the 12-seater van, which was waiting

outside the front door.

When police saw the hostages had not been released, they moved in. A shot was fired

from inside the van but nobody was hit, said Chanthoeun. The police arrested the

suspects.

Ros Sarath, deputy police chief in Siem Reap said members of the crowd rushed to

collect the children scrambling down the school steps, while others beat the hostage-takers.

Chea Sokhom was taken to military police headquarters where he was questioned by

Chanthoeun in front of media.

During the interrogation, Chanthoeun asked if a security guard from a private firm

was involved in the siege and Sokhom replied that "he is in my group".

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