Charges Dropps Against Accused CFF Rebels

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court dropped charges of terrorism on Wednesday against men ac­cused of belonging to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters—an anti-communist group dedicated to the overthrow of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Presiding Judge Tan Senarong asked his intern from the Royal School of Judges and Prosecutors to deliver the verdict for five ac­cused rebels present in court Wednes­­day.

“The charges against them all are lifted,” the intern declared, and the court provided no further ex­planation. Tan Senarong re­peatedly declined to give reason for his judgment later in the day.

The verdict also cleared four other men tried in absentia on the same charge of terrorism.

Prosecutor Khut Sopheang said later that he would consider ap­pealing the ruling within the allowed 24-hour period, but did not sound certain.

“We charged them as an illegal armed force, but we never found any weapons,” he said.

Since the CFF claimed responsibility for a November 2000 at­tack on Phnom Penh, authorities have arrested scores of alleged rebels.

Human rights workers and oth­er observers have criticized the government’s round-ups, at least in some cases, as witch hunts intended to sow fear and cow political opponents.

Sou Kim, 50, the alleged leader of the cell awaiting its verdict Wednesday, said he was the victim of such intrigue. He stood as Funcinpec’s No 2 candidate for Pailin in last year’s elections.

“My arrest involved politics be­cause at that time Funcinpec had not joined the government,” he said before entering the court.

Sou Kim was arrested in Feb­ruary. Authorities said at the time that confessions by the four other ac­­cused rebels—Penh Bora, 23, Van Vuthy, 42, Chea Chanthorn, 47, and Tuy Bol, 48—led to his ar­rest.

Sok Phal, chief of the Interior Ministry’s Central Security De­partment, then said that Sou Kim in­tended to attack a military installment in Koh Kong pro­vince.

But at their trial last month, the four men whom police said led them to Sou Kim told the court they had done so under extreme duress. Their testimony was elicited by torture, including the application of electric shocks, they told the court.

As the five waited for the rain to ease Wednesday before returning to Prey Sar prison, they said they were elated with the court’s decision.

Sou Kim said he would return to Pailin and continue to work for Funcinpec.


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