Pursat Provincial Court will investigate whether the SRP may be behind an alleged plot to attack Vietnam and Thailand, a court official said Sunday, following the Friday arrest of an SRP-affiliated suspect in the so-called “Khmer Empire Movement.”
SRP officials immediately denied any involvement in the movement, which authorities allege was plotting to take back by force Cambodian and Cham territory lost centuries ago to Vietnam and Thailand.
The fourth suspect arrested in the case, 54-year-old Thab The, was seized Friday as he tried to flee across the Thai border in Poipet and was charged with plotting to form an illegal armed force the same day, said the court’s Prosecutor Top Chan Sireyvuth.
Thab The told the court that he works for SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy’s Committee 14, said Top Chan Sireyvuth, who described Thab The as “a ringleader” in the case.
Cheam Channy was arrested in February 2005 and jailed for a year after police claimed that Committee 14 was an illegal shadow army. The SRP vehemently denied the charges against Cheam Channy, saying the committee was merely a part of a legitimate shadow government.
“[Thab The] is working with Cheam Channy,” Top Chan Sireyvuth said. [Thab The] also works to recruit armed forces,” he added.
Thab The has told the court that the SRP promised it would give him a position as a one-star general in a future government if he worked for Committee 14, Top Chan Sireyvuth said.
The court will now examine whether the Khmer Empire Movement is a revamped version of Committee 14, he added. “We must investigate the case first” before deciding whether the SRP is involved, he said.
Officials say the Khmer Empire Movement was trying to recruit more than 400 Cham Muslims into a militia.
Cheam Channy on Sunday denied any knowledge of the Khmer Empire Movement, adding that Thab The had previously worked with him, but not for seven or eight months.
“I don’t know what was going on with him,” Cheam Channy said. “I was not involved in the movement.”
Cheam Channy said he was neither afraid of being rearrested nor worried that the case would be used to target the SRP.
“Justice will win,” he said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy also said the SRP was not behind the plot, adding that he was not concerned that his officials are about to be accused again of trying to form an illegal armed force.
“I don’t think they can bring the dead case back to life,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also disputed Top Chan Sireyvuth’s claims, saying the SRP and Cheam Channy were not involved in the movement.
“Police are investigating and the Sam Rainsy Party is not involved,” he said.
Top Chan Sireyvuth also claimed that Thab The had been receiving funds for the alleged militia from Cambodians living in the US.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle could not be reached for comment.
On May 8, police arrested three Cham Muslims, Chan Veasna, Ny Kosal and Tol Mann, for alleged involvement in the movement.
Nhoung Samoeurn, a Pursat investigator for local rights group Licadho, said he visited the three men over the weekend.
Chan Veasna told Licadho that he had been recruiting armed forces, but only to provide security in local villages and not to attack neighboring countries, Nhoung Samoeurn said.
Tol Mann and Ny Kosal both denied trying to form an armed force of any kind, and said they believed they were identifying villagers who wanted new wells, Nhoung Samoeurn said.