Sixteen people were sent to Battambang court Monday morning for disarming government soldiers and attempting to incite social disorder, the northwest province’s court prosecutor said.
Seven civilians from Malai district in neighboring Banteay Meanchey province and nine military soldiers made up the group, said Yen Yeith, Battambang’s court prosecutor.
On Wednesday night, a group of soldiers and civilians surrounded the Malai district office and disarmed and took ICOM radios as well as other equipment from police in the building, Yen Yeith said.
A statement faxed Thursday from a group calling itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters claimed that it had organized anti-government protests in the former Khmer Rouge district.
On Thursday, military police dispersed the group and arrested 16 people, Yen Yeith said. The 16 were later transferred to Battambang province and interviewed by the court. No charges have yet been filed, he said.
“They mobilized people there to act against the government,” Yen Yeith said.
A top military official said Monday that the group was seeking to secede from the country by military means and gain autonomy.
“It is totally against the national Constitution, and so we had a crackdown,” said RCAF Chief of General Staff Ke Kim Yan.
However, what exactly happened in Malai last Thursday is still unclear. Human rights officials investigating the incident said there are conflicting reports about the events.
Malai is one of seven districts created last year after Khmer Rouge in that area defected to the government.
One report says that one of the civilians escaped over the weekend after being held in Battambang’s Svay Pao district. Military officials were being held in the provincial station.
Human rights officials are also investigating reports that as many as 50 people are still being held in Malai.
Information about the organization blamed for the incident, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, also remains sketchy.
The organization is based on the Thai-Cambodia frontier, claims political neutrality and lists Brigadier General Dul Saroeun, Khmer Rouge commander of unit 519, as one of its leaders. Dul Saroeun’s unit last year worked with resistance commander Nhiek Bun Chay.
A Western military adviser said the group is being led by a Cambodian-American from the city of Long Beach, California. Long Beach has a large Cambodian population.
“Such an insurrection movement must be processed through a particular mastermind,” Ke Kim Yan said.
“It is not a normal political insurrection, but a military one. Someone must be behind this but we cannot ascertain that because of lack of evidence,” the military leader said.
The Thursday fax from the group claimed that protesters also gathered in Komrieng district, in nearby Malai. Crowds of civilians and soldiers protested against Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the statement claimed.
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