Suffolk man witnesses Cambodian siege

EXCLUSIVEBy Mark HeathA SUFFOLK man who was working just 200 metres away from the Cambodian school where a three-year-old boy was shot dead in an armed siege has spoken of the terrifying experience.


By Mark Heath

A SUFFOLK man who was working just 200 metres away from the Cambodian school where a three-year-old boy was shot dead in an armed siege has spoken of the terrifying experience.

Chris Jefferson was fixing computers for a company based on the same road as the Siem Reap International School when the drama unfolded yesterday.

An armed gang stormed the school, taking students from about 15 countries hostage and demanding money, weapons and a vehicle.

About 70 pupils in the kindergarten class – believed to be aged between two and four – were originally captured, along with three teachers.

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But after the masked gunman mercilessly executed a three-year-old Canadian boy, police raided the building and rescued the remaining hostages.

It was later revealed by police that three of the four hostage takers – who were said to be armed with shotguns – had been killed.

Speaking last night, Mr Jefferson, from Ipswich, said: "At about 10am I was fixing computers down the same road as the school. A Cambodian local came in and shouted 'International school – teachers', but we didn't really take any notice.

"Then we got a phone call saying that four men had gone in with guns. All through the day, the army were going up and down the road and at about 4pm there was some shots fired.

"When I was at work it was like 'Don't go outside because you're going to get shot'. There were AK47s and M16s all over the place, people driving up and down the road, soldiers everywhere and a big crowd.

"The police got all armed up and got sticks and started beating the crowd back. It was frightening, but living in the Wild West you get used to these types of things.

"We're not sure what actually happened in the end – we think it was a crack squad of Cambodian forces that went in dressed as peasants. It was crazy."

Information minister Khieu Kanharith, quoting the Deputy National Police Chief, Neth Savoeun, said the gunmen had shot the boy when the authorities had declined to meet all of their demands, then "threatened to kill the other children one-by-one".

Deputy Military Police Commander Prak Chanthoeum added they had demanded money, six AK-47 assault rifles, six shotguns, grenade launchers, hand grenades and a car.

He later said $30,000 US dollars (£16,500) and a van had been given to the gunmen, but they had still refused to free the hostages and continued to demand guns and grenades.

Hours after the siege began, witnesses heard shots being fired inside the school as the police struck, before children fled into the arms of their panic-stricken parents.

Mr Jefferson, 36, said the dead gunmen had been loaded onto the back of truck and driven away in front of a baying crowd.

He added: "I just went through the school gates. It was chaos. When they loaded up the bodies on the truck and it went rolling out of the gate they were all cheering and applauding – they were so happy.

"The feeling was that these guys had done wrong and they deserved what they got – Cambodians are very hardened to this sort of thing.

"The scene at the school was absolute chaos. Cambodians have a habit of, if there's a car accident or anything like that, people gather around so there were loads of people looking on."

Mr Jefferson, who has lived and worked in Siem Reap for six months, continued: "Everybody was really, really shaken up and people wouldn't really say anything.

"It was chaotic, but there was a sense of relief that everything had finished. The teachers were very shaken and upset, but apart from that it was just relief. It cuts you up though. A three-year-old boy dying does not feel good."

But Mr Jefferson stressed: "Cambodia is a really nice place and this is a one-off. It's only four people that have actually done this.

"As far as tourism goes, they are really worried that it will frighten people off now, but I think Cambodia is safer than Ipswich. It's not a regular occurrence. It's frightening, but it's not something that happens every day."

A British girl, believed to be four years old, was caught up in the hostage crisis, but was recovering last night with her parents after emerging unscathed from the terror.

British ambassador David Reader chartered a plane with a French colleague to travel to the stricken school.

He said: "The young British child is fine. I have spoken to her parents, but they are all fine and I will be seeing her parents in a short while.

"At this stage, I think she's fine and I think, rather understandably, she's rather confused, given her rather young age and the shocking incidents that happened. She's with her parents now and hopefully she will be well.

"We wish to investigate with the Cambodian authorities what was the motivation of the gang and are there any lessons to be learned for the future?"

Mr Reader added: "We understand it started at about 9.30am and it was initially said there were six intruders, but the statement by the chief of police said four men actually took part in the siege, in which three subsequently died.

"They went in with just one small handgun. Unfortunately, 28 children overall, a mixture of two kindergarten classes, were held, of which one child unfortunately was then killed towards the end of the siege, we understand.

"But the other 27 children have all returned to their parents and, as far as we understand at the moment, they are well."

Siem Reap is in the north-west of the Asian country, near its famed Angkor temples and home to many expatriates.

Mr Reader said: "I have to say this is a most unusual set of circumstances. In recent times, whilst there are some problems here from the past, the international community has never before experienced anything like this.

"I think that is why we need to find out about the motivation – it is a surprise and I hope that it will be a one-off."

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