Alleged members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters were charged in two different courtrooms Monday with terrorism and membership in an illegal armed group.
Provincial authorities in Battambang said six Cambodians and one Cambodian-American were charged under Article One and Article Three of Cambodian law.
Two other suspects were not charged, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged five alleged CFF members under the same laws, said Sok Roeun, public prosecutor for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The charges come after authorities arrested the 12 alleged members of the CFF on Thursday night.
Two of the suspects in Phnom Penh said Monday that agents acting under CFF leader Chhun Yasith offered them $500 to throw a grenade into the National Assembly compound and $700 to throw a grenade at Prince Norodom Sirivudh.
“I wonder why they order me to throw a grenade at the Prince’s residence,” said Men Sophal, 30, who admitted he had joined the CFF in July. “They said they wanted to frighten people and make public turmoil. I would have done everything if they paid us money.”
Men Sophal, a former bodyguard of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said he met several times with “ringleaders” that were only identified as No 3 and No 72.
Numbers 3 and 72 allegedly ordered Men Sophal and four other suspected CFF members to attack the National Assembly and Prince Sirivudh, Men Sophal said, adding that No 3 and No 72 were acting under orders from Chhun Yasith, the tax accountant based in Long Beach in the US state of California.
Ek Chan Y, another suspect who was charged in Phnom Penh on Monday, agreed with Men Sophal. He said he received $2,000 to recruit members for the CFF ringleaders. He said he spent the $2,000 on a cellphone, gold necklaces and other items.
Chhun Yasith said in a phone interview Monday from Long Beach that he does not know the two men who claim they are working for him and never told them to bomb anything.
But he said he does know the two men the suspects identified as intermediaries—No 3 and No 72.
“No 72 is my relative; I spoke to him just two hours ago,” Chhun Yasith said. “He is working in Thailand, with No 3.”
Chhun Yasith did not identify either intermediary, nor would he speculate on how the men arrested would know the numerals he uses to identify them.
A phone number supplied by a CFF member was answered Monday by a man who identified himself as No 72 and said he was in Banteay Meanchey province. He asked a few questions about the trial, then said he wasn’t really No 72 and quickly hung up.
Chhun Yasith was eager to deny the government’s allegations that his organization hired soldiers to attack Prince Sirivudh, the new secretary-general of Funcinpec.
“We never ordered people to do such a thing,” he said. “Why would we? They are trying to create conflict [between the CFF and Funcinpec] that does not exist.”
He said he wished to apologize to the Prince, and assure him the CFF had nothing to do with the grenade tossed into Funcinpec headquarters. “We have no argument with Sirivudh,” Chhun Yasith said. “He is a democratic leader, and I am a democratic leader.”
Ek Chan Y, 39; Neak Salin, 42; Keo Pak, 31; and Ploung Bunthoeun, 31, were all also charged Monday in Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Police said more arrests are possible.
It Sath, an assistant in the UN Judicial Mentor Program, said that all five suspects in Phnom Penh had not seen legal representation on Monday. However, he said he had found a private lawyer to represent some of the suspects.
Officials from the office of the UNHCHR, who were at Municipal Court in Phnom Penh Monday, said they were “interested” in the case.
On Nov 24, 50 CFF members launched an attack in Phnom Penh, firing shots at government buildings. As many as eight people were killed in the fighting.
In June, 30 men were tried and five, including Chhun Yasith, who was tried in absentia, were sentenced to life imprisonment. The other 25 were given lighter sentences.
(Additional reporting by Jody McPhillips)