King Says He Will Pardon Accused Rioters

King Norodom Sihanouk will pardon any of the youths charged with alleged involvement in the Jan 29 riots if they are convicted because he believes deeply that they were not responsible for the anti-Thai violence, the monarch stated in comments written nearly two weeks ago but not released until last Friday.

Meanwhile, more than half of those youths have been quietly freed over the last two weeks and all charges against them have been dropped, a court official said Sunday.

Any reverberations from the King’s extraordinary assertion of his constitutional right—which parries Prime Minister Hun Sen’s previous refusal of a royal request to release the students—will have to be felt in his absence. King Si­ha­nouk, along with Queen Noro­dom Monineath Sihanouk, de­parted Friday to seek medical treatment in Beijing.

“If these 60 [prisoners] are convicted and must remain in prison, I will allow myself, as constitutional King and in conformity with what the Constitution of 1993 accords me as a ‘right,’ to pardon these 60, for, according to my private conviction, the true guilty parties are not these 60,” the King wrote in the margins of a letter published in The Cambodia Daily on March 5.

King Sihanouk’s comments are signed and dated March 5 but were released for the first time on Friday by their inclusion in his Monthly Bulletin, the thick packet of King-related documents issued by the Royal Palace.

On Feb 27, King Sihanouk requested in writing, and Hun Sen refused in a public speech, the release of the 60 alleged rioters who at that time had been charged with various crimes and detained pending trial. The King politely accepted the premier’s refusal in another letter the following day.

On Sunday, only 22 of the 60 remained in detention, the rest having been absolved and freed a few at a time since March 1, ac­cording to Sok Saroeun, deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and Kim Saren, chief of Prey Sar prison.

The officials denied any connection between the releases and the King.

Neither would provide further information, such as why or on what grounds the releases were granted.

However, both officials confirmed that the highest-profile of the alleged rioters, law student and political activist Ken Sara, was not among those released.

King Sihanouk’s February re­quest to Hun Sen singled out Ken Sara by name as one of the “small and poor” people the King did not believe had the “capacity” to carry out the destructive riots.

The 24-year-old fourth-year law student is a member of the Students’ Movement for Democ­racy, which has claimed that he was not involved in the riots but rather was arrested to prevent him from competing against a police official in an election for the presidency of the law faculty’s student association.

Of the remaining 22 detainees, at least 20 are students, Um Sam An, secretary-general of the students’ movement, claimed on Sunday.

But Kim Saren said only two of them are students.

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