Child killed in school hostage attack

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Masked gunmen seized dozens of children at an international school in northwestern Cambodia today, killing a three-year-old Canadian boy and threatening to shoot the others one-by-one before police freed the remaining hostages, police and government officials said.

The attackers stormed Siem Reap International School Thursday morning, taking students from several countries hostage and demanding money, weapons and a vehicle before police ended the six-hour standoff, taking four gunmen into custody, at least one of whom was wounded.

The gunmen shot the boy when authorities declined to meet all of their demands, then "threatened to kill the other children one-by-one," said Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, quoting the deputy national police chief, Neth Savoeun.

"Then our forces decided to storm the school," said Khieu Kanharith, who described the victim as a 3-year-old Canadian boy. Embassy officials could not immediately confirm that, but a witness who knew the child also identified him as Canadian.

Gunshots were heard just before the children fled the school into the arms of panic-stricken parents.

The crisis unfolded at Cambodia's tourism hub of Siem Reap, near its famed Angkor temples and home to many expatriates, and quickly drew concern from governments around the region. The town has many establishments serving the international tourist trade, and children from at least 15 nations attend the school.

The identity of the attackers was not clear, even after the standoff ended. Prime Minister Hun Sen said they appeared to be security guards at the school, but police later said teachers did not recognize them.

The men originally took about 70 people but later released 30 of them, Khieu Kanharith said.

They "were armed with shotguns" and had demanded money, six AK-47 assault rifles, six shotguns, B-40 grenade launchers, hand grenades and a car, said Deputy Military Police Commander Prak Chanthoeum, who said three teachers were among those seized.

He later said US$30,000 (§24,900) and a van were given to the gunmen, but they still refused to free the hostages and continued to demand guns and grenades.

Police initially said there were six attackers, but later put the number at four and said all had been arrested. They said the hostage takers were 22 to 25 years old, and were from the southeastern province of Kandal.

Denis Richer, a Frenchman who said he teaches at another school in the booming tourist town, said he saw one of the attackers laying wounded on the ground after police ended the siege.

A Western resident in Siem Reap, who demanded anonymity, said she was told by a teacher at the school that the children, most of them aged 2 to 6, came from Cambodia, Italy, Indonesia, South Korea, United States, Japan, Ireland, Singapore, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Switzerland.