Nineteen Sam Rainsy Party members confessed to membership in an alleged opposition-led illegal armed force and renounced their party membership at Military Region 5 headquarters in Battambang province on Tuesday.
Heng Savy, who calls himself their leader, said Monday that the defectors would number 30. On Tuesday, however, he said that casino jobs in Banteay Meanchey province prevented 11 of them from attending. It was the third group defection since Thursday.
Bun Seng, commander of Military Region 5, said Tuesday that the 19 defectors had come from Battambang’s Mong Russei district. “I asked them to confess and we filmed it,” Bun Seng said. “We gave them food and rice and each got 10,000 riel.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused the opposition party of recruiting a militant branch similar to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
Opposition party officials say the so-called armed force is an openly run “shadow ministry,” known as Committee No 14, that watches the military and related government departments for corruption and other misconduct.
Hun Sen announced in a speech Sunday that members of the network had 15 days to surrender and testify against their leaders without facing punishment.
Complaints have been filed with the Military Court to secure an unknown number of arrest warrants.
The government’s accusations against the Sam Rainsy Party elicited harsh words from US senators John McCain and Bill Frist last week in Washington.
While McCain called Hun Sen’s allegations “far-fetched,” Frist said they “appear to be designed to intimidate the democratic opposition.”
Hun Sen has repeatedly said that his accusations are not intended as political intimidation.
Little evidence has been produced to support his charges other than government-orchestrated confessions and documents showing the accused rebels’ membership in Committee No 14.
“Cambodia has paid too high a price under authoritarian rule in the past. We cannot and will not accept the use of fear as an instrument of the State,” Frist said, according to a written copy of his remarks.