Hun Sen Puts Up Bounty for Names
Military police Saturday arrested an alleged ringleader of Friday’s armed attack on Phnom Penh, saying he is a Cambodian-American linked to the anti-communist Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
Richard Kiri Kim, arrested in Siem Reap province as he prepared to board a plane for Thailand, told investigators he commanded the raid on several government offices in which at least eight were killed and 14 were wounded, some seriously.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said embassy officials were present when Kiri Kim was questioned Sunday in Phnom Penh. “We have responsibility for American citizens’ welfare and protection, and we demanded and received access to him,” he said.
He said Kiri Kim, who appeared uninjured, freely admitted directing the raid and asked that “organizations that love democracy” support the CFF’s efforts to overthrow the Cambodian government.
Kiri Kim may appear in court in Phnom Penh this morning, said Sin Chhung Hor, chief of the interrogation office in the Ministry of Interior’s criminal department.
Wiedemann said he was not sure where Kiri Kim lives in the US.
The CFF’s head, Chhun Yasith, is believed to be based in Long Beach, in the US state of California.
Kiri Kim’s statements dovetailed with one faxed from Bangkok Saturday and apparently signed by CFF president Yasith Chhun.
It said the CFF staged the assault to show it “is capable to take over the country in within a short period of time” and to stop the visit of Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, which was to have started today. That trip was canceled Friday.
The CFF wants to prevent the “Vietnamese puppet government of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen” from signing treaties with Vietnam that would harm Cambodia, an apparent reference to unspecified border disputes.
Chhun Yasith is a former member of the Sam Rainsy Party. In December 1998, he announced the CFF’s goal was to overthrow Hun Sen’s government. The Sam Rainsy Party has disavowed his activities.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking to reporters after he arrived Saturday night at Pochentong Airport from an Asean meeting in Singapore, was openly contemptuous of the organization.
“This group is more clever than the Khmer Rouge,” he said mockingly. “They found a prison and a place to die quicker than the Khmer Rouge.”
He noted that the raid was so poorly planned and executed that it was quickly controlled by municipal authorities and he did not have to cut his trip to Singapore short.
That assessment was echoed by Lieutenant General Pol Saroeun, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, who was at the airport to welcome Hun Sen. “We are not worried about this,” he said. “Many countries have terrorist incidents like this.”
Hun Sen promised amnesty to rebels who turned themselves in quickly, as well as a $500 bounty for those who named leaders.
The trouble began at about 1:30 am Friday, when about 50 armed men lobbed grenades and rockets at a gas station, a truckful of police and the Council of Ministers on Pochentong Boulevard.
They continued to the Ministry of Defense, where they engaged in a fierce gun battle with soldiers. Another band attacked a military barracks 15 km to the west.
Police arrested 58 suspects on Friday and Saturday; 20 are expected to be released today. The other 38 will be sent to the military court, according to a human rights worker.
The rights worker emphasized that only those suspects who are confirmed to be RCAF soldiers should be sent to the military court. Otherwise, he said, they should be sent to municipal court, which is reserved for civilians.
Police said they are pursuing still others in the city and the provinces of Kompong Speu and Kompong Cham.
Some of those captured said they thought they had been hired for construction work, but instead were given weapons and told to fire.
The raid’s organizers “seem to have recruited many of their men fairly late,” said Wiedemann. “These weren’t guerrillas who had trained for months in the jungle,” but “more like instant revolutionaries.”
Wiedemann agreed with top government officials who say the CFF is an anti-communist organization based in the US. “But it’s kind of shadowy, and I don’t know much about it,” he said.
Hun Sen called on France and the US to cooperate in the investigation, saying terrorist leaders are based in both countries.
He was apparently referring to Chhun Yasith and Ith Suong, a general with the Khmer Serey anti-government movement said to be living in France. Last August, Hun Sen made a similar plea for cooperation.
French diplomats Sunday said they would not comment on the latest developments as they have received no formal request from the government.
Wiedemann said that while the US and Cambodia have no extradition treaty, investigators both at the US Embassy here and in the US will “certainly” cooperate.
“This is a serious matter, and may well be terrorism,” he said. “People were killed. There were a lot of bullets flying. That, to my mind, is criminal activity.”
It is unclear exactly what links there may be between the Khmer Serey, the CFF and the Free Vietnam movement, a third anti-communist group that has surfaced in Cambodia.
It was also unclear Sunday whether Chhun Yasith was in Thailand. Thai Embassy officials could not be reached to say if they are also willing to cooperate with Cambodian authorities.
Cambodians interviewed in Phnom Penh Sunday said they were puzzled by the fighting and not eager to talk about it. One popular theory is that the government staged the battle to delay a Khmer Rouge tribunal—a theory officials flatly deny.
Diplomats and human rights workers say they have seen nothing to support that theory or to contradict the government’s explanation. “But we’ll be watching,” one said.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara, Saing Soenthrith, Thet Sambath and Van Roeun)