As the first charges were laid Wednesday by Phnom Penh municipal court against 38 alleged members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, army officials confirmed that former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin is among those listed as possible leaders or members of the rebel group.
National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha and Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said that although Chhouk Rin’s name is listed on alleged CFF battle plans seized after the attack on Phnom Penh last Friday, there is no evidence he is involved.
Chhouk Rin, contacted by telephone in Kep, said he was aware of the CFF document but called the allegations a ludicrous attack on his loyalty to the government. In July a court ruled Chhouk Rin could not be held responsible for the kidnapping and execution of three Western tourists in 1994, weeks before he defected to the government.
Sao Sokha said no orders have been given to arrest Chhouk Rin based on the alleged CFF document, believed to be the blueprint for the assaults on government offices.
“[CFF] made this rumor to start problems between [former Khmer Rouge] and the government,” Sao Sokha said, adding that people cannot be arrested simply because their name appears on a list.
Chhouk Rin and another former Khmer Rouge commander in Phnom Voar, Tes Sarin, are listed on an alleged CFF document titled “Volcano Operation Phnom Penh.”
The bizarre spreadsheet document in Khmer and English appears to detail the planned attacks on the homes of dozens of senior government officials, government offices, foreign embassies—including the US embassy—and communications installations.
Chhouk Rin said he doesn’t know what the government intends to do, but said he is not worried about the document.
“I know that my name is on the list of names of those in the CFF movement. [But] I don’t why my name is on the list,” he said. “I don’t know anybody in the CFF and no one ever called me to join it.
“I think the people who registered my name on the list are trying to destroy my reputation. They register anyone who had a problem with the government in the past, or might have a problem in the future, in order to make the government confused,” Chhouk Rin added.
A senior provincial official in Kampot province said Wednesday that there is tension in the Kep area where Chhouk Rin lives.
But the official’s claims that more government forces have been deployed in the area were downplayed by Prince Sirirath, who said that security has be increased nationwide since the CFF attack.
Soeng Hong, the province’s Funcinpec deputy military police commander, was questioned Tuesday about CFF’s presence in Kampot and then released, according to Vong Phisen, deputy national commander of military police.
The accuracy of the seized documents naming alleged rebels was also called into question Wednesday by a spokesman for the CFF in Bangkok.
Chhouk Rin has never been a member of the movement, the spokesman said, adding he did not know what documents the government is using to arrest people.
One diplomatic official said the government is using last Friday’s violence as justification to target opponents. “Read between the lines here,” the official said. “Now [Prime Minister] Hun Sen can [take] his list of 500 or so political opponents and start ticking off between now and [the 2003 elections.]”
Director General of National Police Hok Lundy said those appearing on the list are not necessarily rebels.
“I don’t know how many people were arrested from the list. We haven’t calculated the number,” he said. “We cannot conclude 100 percent that the people arrested are rebels because there might be confusion. So after investigation, anybody found innocent, with no involvement, will be released.”
Phnom Penh municipal court charged 38 alleged members of the CFF, including Cambodian-American Richard Kiri Kim, with conducting acts of terrorism and membership in an illegal armed force. The suspects could face life imprisonment if convicted.
The alleged leader of the US-based freedom fighters, Chhun Yasith, and two other unnamed accomplices were charged in absentia, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Yet Chakriya said.
The court released 14 other suspects who were cleared of involvement with the rebels, he added.
“There were no documents showing that they were members of the CFF,” Yet Chakriya said.
Funcinpec Party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Wednesday criticized the rebel attack on Phnom Penh, stating the CFF were planning to kill him, Hun Sen and destroy the Royal Palace.
“The [target] to be attacked by them is not only Hun Sen, but also the Royal Palace and [myself],” Ranariddh said. He said $1 million was offered for himself and $7 million for the destruction of the prime minister.
Prince Ranariddh also questioned where the rebel group received funding for the attack. “They have resources,” he said. “If they had no resources they could not mount the attack.”
(Additional reporting Pin Sisovann)