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Canadian Student Killed as Cambodian Hostage Crisis Ends

  • Kate Woodsome

A Canadian child was killed as Cambodian police and military officials raided an international school held hostage by four masked men in the town of Siem Reap. The child was killed in a volley of gunshots that ended a six-hour standoff between authorities and hostage-takers at the Siem Reap International School.

Four gunmen raided the school in the morning, and briefly held about 70 students and teachers, but police were able to escort most to safety. The attackers waited out the day in a classroom with 29 pupils, aged two to four. Japanese, Australian, and Canadian children are said to be among those held.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was among the regional leaders monitoring the situation. "I understand the demands are for money, for weapons," Mr. Downer said. "We do not know yet what the group is, what its background is."

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the men demanded guns, rocket-launchers, a minivan, and an escort to Thailand. He also said they may be linked to a U.S. group that opposes the Cambodian government. He said the government suspects the men are supporters of Chhun Yasith, the Cambodian-American leader of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. He was recently arrested in California for masterminding an attack on the Phnom Penh government five years ago.

A Los Angeles court charged Chhun Yasith with conspiracy to kill and engage in a military expedition against a foreign country.

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters has refrained from violence since that attack in 2000. The diplomatic community in Phnom Penh was bewildered by the school attack, with one Western official saying it was uncharacteristic for Cambodia today.

Hostage-taking was a popular political tool used during the 1990s, as soldiers from the defeated Khmer Rouge regime attempted to gain money or influence. Since national elections in 1998, Cambodia has been relatively peaceful, after enduring nearly four decades of civil war and genocide. An impoverished country, Cambodia relies heavily on foreign aid, and is home to a large expatriate development community. But foreigners rarely are victims of crime.

Cambodia has promoted Siem Reap's 800-year-old Angkor temples as a tourist destination for foreigners. One million visitors toured the historic town last year, providing a huge contribution to the country's fragile economy.

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