Hostage-takers die in hail of gunfire

KANCHANABURI (AFP): Thai security forces today shot and killed a band of nine Burmese who had held a jail governor and two other prison staff captive overnight, police said. The governor, his deputy and a policeman were injured in the rescue attempt and had been taken to hospital for treatment, officials said. “The prison governor is seriously injured. He is in a coma. We are sending him to hospital in Bangkok by helicopter,” said Vanida Chanon, deputy director of the Kanchanaburi provincial hospital. All nine gunmen were killed in the operation, said police spokesman Lieutenant-General Pongsapas Pongcharoen, noting that it was previously believed that only eight were involved. “All nine were Burmese nationals,” he said. The nine, who had been in jail in Samut Sakhon awaiting trial on criminal charges ranging from murder to selling drugs, seized the prison governor and six guards yesterday morning. A prison religious instructor was shot in the head when he resisted the takeover attempt, launched in the mess hall during a ceremony to mark the start of a new job training program. After a tense eight-hour stand-off with negotiators, the gunmen broke down the main prison gates and drove out of the compound in a stolen pick-up truck, pursued by hundreds of police. The Burmese headed for the border region, demanding safe passage to Burma, and releasing four hostages along the route. Police successfully stalled their progress throughout the night and the rescue mission took place just after 7:30 this morning in Kanchanaburi province. Police commandos opened fire on the nine, who were armed with grenades and handguns, after two flat tyres forced them to stop and they alighted to inspect a replacement truck. Television footage showed balaclava-clad officers surrounding the vehicles and letting off a sustained volley of gunfire that obscured the scene in a cloud of smoke. Interviewed from his hospital bed, deputy prison governor Sema Kumpanon said the captives had not expected to live through their ordeal. “When we left the prison we thought we would not survive, so we talked about dying together,” he said. The deputy governor said he had managed to lie low during the hail of gunfire. “After the police opened fire, the prisoners started to shoot back and after a few minutes I opened the door and threw myself out of the car,” he said.

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