Kidnappers believed to be Khmer Rouge guerrillas are demanding a ransom for three Cambodian NGO workers snatched from a remote area of Banteay Meanchey province, officials said Wednesday.
The three—two women and one man—were abducted Monday from Banteay Meanchey’s Phnom Srok district, according to the province’s governor, Duong Khem.
The kidnapping, believed to be the work of Khmer Rouge division 519, comes as the entire rank and file of the outlawed of Khmer Rouge is said to be laying down arms in the northwest and defecting peacefully to the government.
A top RCAF official said Wednesday that he hopes the kidnapping victims will be released soon because the guerrillas’ division commander, Dul Saroeun—who last week agreed to a historic defection deal along with seven other rebel leaders—has promised to order his troops to free them.
“There’s no problem because I have talked to their commander,” said General Ko Chean, head of the Battambang town-based Military Region 5.
Division 519 guerrillas are also believed to have been responsible for the kidnapping of 40 villagers in Siem Reap last week. Those victims were freed after a ransom was paid.
The NGO workers in Banteay Meanchey were abducted along with a fourth colleague between 4 and 5 pm Monday.
The kidnappers later Monday released the fourth victim with a message demanding a ransom of 300,000 Thai baht (about $8,5,00), officials said.
The released man said at least six kidnappers wearing Khmer Rouge uniforms threatened to kill the workers if the ransom was not paid, Duong Khem said.
The abductees work for CARE, a US-based NGO, which on Wednesday confirmed the kidnappings, but declined to release further information.
“We are looking into who is detaining them and what the situation is,” said CARE’s country director, Neil Hawkins. “At the moment, we don’t have clear facts on this situation.”
Ko Chhean said he contacted the guerrilla’s division commander, Dul Saroeun, by telephone Tuesday. Dul Saroeun agreed to order his soldiers to release the three victims.
Officials speculated that the kidnappers targeted NGO workers in the belief that NGOs have deep pockets and will readily pay large cash amounts for ransoms.
Ko Chhean said he believes about 10 out of some 80 Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Phnom Srok could be involved. The abductees were being held farther east in Poy Char commune, he said.
The NGO staff were working on a clean-water project in Phnom Srok and were stopped in Trapeang Pao commune, 50 km northeast of Sisophon, while driving their pickup truck back to their base in the provincial capital, Duong Khem said.
Duong Khem said local officials have considered the Phnom Srok area to be unsafe since the July 5-6 factional fighting in Phnom Penh split the armed forces and sent thousands of RCAF troops into resistance.
Duong Khem said he asked the CARE workers not to go to Phnom Srok, citing safety concerns. When the group insisted, he offered a police protection but they refused, he said, saying it was against the regulations .
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