Six inmates busted out of Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison in the wee hours of yesterday morning, police said, adding another incident to a string of embarrassing escapes at the facility over the past two years.
According to a post on the National Police’s website, authorities in Ratanakkiri’s Banlung town are “investigating and pursuing” six escapees – Sy Noy, Chan Saros, Lim Sitha, In Chanthou, Los Sareth and Ouk Sopheap – who were incarcerated on drug trafficking and theft charges in 2013 and 2014.
The rights group Adhoc said that as of yesterday, 20 inmates locked up on charges ranging from drug offences to murder and rape had broken out of Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison in the course of four separate escapes over the past two years. Yesterday’s escape also comes on the heels of two jailbreaks in Kampong Chhnang and Kampot provinces in recent weeks.
Chhay Thy, a coordinator for Adhoc who visited the scene, said prison officials had removed any evidence relating to the latest escape, but said one police officer had told him that a ladder and a pair of bolt cutters had been found.
“At the window, two six-millimetre iron bars were cut, and they broke a prison gate,” Thy said. “Six escaped, while the seventh inmate was picked up by a prison guard as he crawled out of the window.
When [the guard] heard a sound, he woke up, because he was on duty that night, and he was the person who arrested the escaping prisoner. He said when he arrested him, he saw two other prisoners running away.”
“This is a huge responsibility for the prison chief, who has let repeated mistakes happen in which [inmates] used the same techniques to escape,” he also said.
Bun Thai, a provincial investigator with the rights group Licadho who is also looking into the case, said that given the circumstances, the escapees likely had help from within the institution.
“If they broke out of the jail, [guards] must have heard. That must have been a plan which has to be investigated,” he said.
However, prison chief Tin Sovanny rejected accusations of a conspiracy, and said that while he had actually slept at the prison on the night of the escape, things had really been under the control of an acting chief he had put in charge while away in Phnom Penh for a few days prior.
“If we had known [about the escape], we would have arrested them, but no one knew and they escaped at night. I also stayed [at the prison], but the officers on duty saw the seventh inmate and called me immediately,” he said.
Major General Be Tealeng, director of the operations department at the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, said that police and the provincial court were pursuing the suspects and issuing arrest warrants.