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Suspect in axe murders arrested

The axe used in the attack in Sihanoukville sits next to an evidence marker yesterday. Photo supplied
The axe used in the attack in Sihanoukville sits next to an evidence marker yesterday. Photo supplied

Suspect in axe murders arrested

Police yesterday arrested a 26-year-old man for a brutal axe attack on a family of seven in Sihanoukville last month that left a mother and her young daughter dead, with the suspect allegedly confessing that a personal dispute sparked the horrific crime.

After a nine-day man hunt across several provinces, officers seized Loi Sopheak, a resident of Sihanoukville, at 9:30am at a friend’s house in Kandal province’s Muk Kampoul district, according to James McCabe of the Child Protection Unit, which assisted with the investigation.

The suspect, pictured stony-faced and barefooted wearing a white shirt and black pants, has been on the run since allegedly breaking into the Sihanoukville Commune 1 home of 32-year-old mother of five Um Phanna as the family slept on December 29, McCabe said.

Sopheak, suspected of hacking Phanna, her five children and her 65-year-old mother with an axe, confessed, McCabe said.

“The suspect has confessed to the crime as being a lone offender motivated over a period of time after a disagreement with the family,” McCabe said.

“He informed investigators of the location of the bloodied murder weapon, which has been recovered near bush land close to his house and will undergo DNA testing.”

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Murder suspect Loi Sopheak is escorted into a police station by authorities after his arrest yesterday morning in Kandal province. Photo supplied

Preah Sihanouk provinical police chief Chuon Narin confirmed that Sopheak, who has previously served a three-year prison sentence for armed robbery, had told officers during an interrogation that a quarrel with the family had motivated his attack.

Phanna’s husband and the children’s father, Kong Phearum, who was away on a fishing trip when the attack occurred, asserted, however, that the family did not know Sopheak personally and were not involved in a dispute, though he noted he had not seen a photo of the suspect, who he called “immoral and very barbarous”.

However, Phearum’s sister Kong Raksmey, who had seen a picture of Sopheak, said her sister-in-law had been in a long-running feud with the suspect, whom she accused of stealing her chicken. Raksmey said Phanna held a grudge against the suspect and would often insult him.

On the night before the attack, Sopheak and Phanna and another man ate dinner together when the dispute flared up, she said, speculating that Sopheak might have “wanted to take revenge”.

“I never thought something like this would happen,” she said.Detained at Preah Sihanouk provincial police station, Sopheak will face court today, Narin said.

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