Pursat Provincial Court said Thursday it is reopening its investigation of the so-called Angkor Empire Movement, or “Khmer Empire Movement,” conspiracy to attack Vietnam and Thailand.
The alleged conspiracy was one of three anti-government plots for which Hun Sen said Sunday the SRP should be investigated in light of information provided by recent SRP defectors to the ruling party. The SRP denies any connection to the movement.
Pursat Provincial Prosecutor Top Chan Sireyvuth said Thursday that, in order to reopen the Angkor Empire Movement investigation, the court had delayed announcing the verdict from an earlier trial of individuals involved in the movement, which was held quietly in April.
A new investigation and trial will now take place, he said.
“The judge couldn’t announce the verdicts because the case is so complicated,” Top Chan Sireyvuth said. Pursat court Investigating Judge Kong Sokhom could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Top Chan Sireyvuth also said he did not yet know whether he would seek to question SRP defector Lek Bun Neagn, who Hun Sen said Sunday should participate in a military inquest into the SRP’s alleged militant activities.
Authorities said in May 2007 that one of four suspects arrested for alleged links to the Empire Movement, Thab The, had confessed he was working on the orders of SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy. Cheam Channy was himself jailed in 2005 after police accused him of attempting to form a secret army, a trial and verdict that was heavily criticized by human rights and other groups.
The alleged Empire Movement conspiracy reportedly involved a plan to recruit as many as 400 men to take back Surin province in Thailand as well as the ancient kingdom of Champa and Kampuchea Krom, both areas now located in Vietnam. Authorities, however, said the alleged conspirators had no weapons and their recruits were unaware of their involvement in any plot.
Pol Vorn, Pursat Court Director and presiding judge in the April trial of alleged Empire Movement members, said Thursday that no new date had been set for the re-trial.
“We will announce the verdict after we hear the case again,” he said.
Phuong Sothea, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said Thursday that the trial in April had been held “in a secretive manner” with a heavy security presence. At trial, Thab The confessed his guild freely, Phuong Sothea said.
“It was strange. He confessed without any fear,” he said. “Thab The confessed that all the [movement’s] documents were made at SRP headquarters and even though he did not say the SRP ordered him to do it he said he worked for SRP officials,” he added.
“I have been concerned that close to the elections the case would come out. It is a political issue,” he continued.
Thab The’s defense lawyer, Legal Aid of Cambodia attorney Van Borath, said Thursday that his client had told the court the movement had aimed to establish a new government and replace Hun Sen. He also said that he had been working as an informant for the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug and human trafficking police, Van Borath said.
Interior’s anti-narcotics police chief Moek Dara said Thursday he could only identify informants from their photos and did not known names.
Van Borath said he planned to seek the release of Thab The, and codefendant Dara Chan Veasna, due to a lack of evidence.
“In the court’s evidence there are no weapons, there are no leaders,” he said.
In June 2007, local rights group Licadho said that Thab The had informed them during a prison visit that he was recruited in 2006 as an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to seek out terrorists in Cambodia. The US Embassy later denied that Thab The was an FBI informant.
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said Thursday the SRP had never ordered its members to establish any militant movement.
“We are struggling through non-violent means,” he said. “SRP members who breach the law must be responsible before the law,” he added.
“This is a drama aimed at intimidating the SRP. This is a drama like the [Cambodian Freedom Fighters] and the Siem Reap attacks,” he said, referring to a 1998 rocket attack on a Hun Sen motorcade for which an SRP member was blamed.
CPP National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said Thursday that the Empire Movement was of the utmost gravity.
“It is not a joke or a drama,” he said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the investigation in order to pursue justice.”