Authorities are scouring the country for convicted terrorist Som Ek after he allegedly used cake, rice and a pipe spiked with sleeping pills to subdue his guards at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh and escape.
“We have ordered police officials at all border checkpoints to arrest the prisoner Som Ek if they see him trying to cross the border,” Sok Phal, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s general immigration department, said on Monday.
Mr. Ek, 51, was convicted in two separate cases of orchestrating a 2007 bombing at the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument and 2009 bombing attempts on the offices of the Defense Ministry and TV3 studio in Phnom Penh.
Prosecutors said Mr. Ek had been working for an obscure anti-government militant group—the Tiger Head Movement—financed by Cambodians living overseas.
Pech Yon, chief of Phnom Penh’s PJ Prison, said the chain of events leading to Mr. Ek’s escape were set in motion on Thursday when he fainted in his prison bathroom and was rushed to the hospital. On Saturday night, Mr. Ek’s family visited his room in the*neurology ward bearing rice and other food, Mr. Yon said.
“Prison guards told us that after they ate some rice, they fell asleep, and when they woke up, they did not see Som Ek, even though they had locked him to the bed,” Mr. Yon said.
“Our experts are searching for him and will call his family for questioning.”
Chhay Sreypov, 32, said her mother, Pal Pha, 57, had shared Room 13 at the hospital’s neurological ward with Mr. Ek since their arrival on Thursday, and the pair witnessed the arrival on Saturday of a group that included Mr. Ek’s wife, two men and two women. They brought “some rice, fruits and cake,” a gesture they hadn’t made on two prior visits, she said.
Mr. Ek disappeared in the bathroom for almost half an hour during the course of the visit, and emerged wearing a new T-shirt and shorts, she said.
“He told his wife to give out some cake to us. After we ate the cake and rice, we felt sleepy. The prison guard saw something white and unusual on the rice, but he was hungry,” Ms. Sreypov explained. “At about 11 p.m., Som Ek told me, ‘Sleep, please sleep.’”
One by one, the room’s occupants—which included two other members of Ms. Pha’s family, the prison guard and a third patient who also had three visiting family members—dozed off. By that time, Mr. Ek’s family and friends had left, she said.
Eventually the only two people still awake in the room were Mr. Ek and Ms. Pha, who had not eaten.
Mr. Ek then put on a black coat and began smoking a pipe that gave off an unusual odor, Ms. Pha said, giving her a headache.
“I saw that my daughter was very tired and didn’t want to disturb her,” she said. “At that time, I also fell asleep.”
The room’s third patient, who has since departed from the hospital, was the first to awake about an hour later, and alerted the guard upon noting Mr. Ek’s disappearance.
“The guard woke up, but he couldn’t get his eyes open,” Ms. Sreypov said, adding that he eventually alerted a colleague sleeping outside the room.
Ms. Sreypov said that although she recognized Mr. Ek’s face from television, he had described himself only as a “political prisoner.”
Though authorities said Mr. Ek confessed to planning the monument bombing, he claimed the confessions were made under duress and denied all charges during his trial.
Police also have linked Mr. Ek to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, which launched a botched attack in 2000 on government buildings in Phnom Penh.
narim@cambodiadaily.com, paviour@cambodiadaily.com
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