Municipal district police officer Chan Yean and government bodyguard Hong Sikhoeun sat handcuffed on the floor of the Municipal Court Tuesday evening as the last of 49 suspects were interviewed by court officials about their involvement in the failed raid on Phnom Penh last week.
Both Chan Yean and Hong Sikhoeun admit they are members of Cambodian Freedom Fighters, the anti-government movement that allegedly staged the attack Friday on several government buildings in Phnom Penh .
But politically motivated rebels they are not. And the pair claim they have yet to fire a shot in anger against the government.
Their decision to join the freedom fighters earlier this year was influenced by the jobs and money promised by recruiters who sought them out as members.
The recruiters told them to stay at home and not take part in last Friday’s rebel assault on the capital, directions they claim they both followed.
“I was told to make propaganda and gather more members for the CFF in Russei Keo district. I tried to persuade many people to join with me but they would not,” said bodyguard Hong Sikhoeun, who was arrested last weekend in a nationwide sweep.
“The [CFF] promised that if their plan was successful I would get $300 a month salary,” said Hong Sikhoeun, who on a number of occasions was paid between $10 and $20 for his advocacy work
by self-confessed deputy commander-in-chief of the freedom fighters, Richard Kiri Kim.
Kiri Kim, a Cambodian-American, arrested in Siem Reap Saturday, was questioned Tuesday by Deputy Chief Prosecutor Yet Chakriya.
Yet Chakriya said he has finished interviewing Kiri Kim, suspected of commanding the Phnom Pen raid, and 48 other suspected rebels and will decide today who will be charged and who will be released.
Hong Sikhoeun hopes that his orders from CFF leaders last week to stay at home during Friday’s fighting will be taken into account by the court. “We were told just to be on alert but not to leave our houses,” he said.
Chan Yean, 57, also said he was told by his freedom fighter overseers to stay home on the night of the assault.
“They told me the fighting would erupt that night but I did not believe him. They told me to stay at home and be quiet,” Chan Yean said.
Chan Yean, a Prampi Makara district Police officer, now regrets he was ever approached by a police officer friend who said they could make easy money by putting their names down as members of the freedom fighters.
“I joined because I thought I would get a good salary. That’s what they told me,” Chan Yean said. “I also put the names of my two sons on the list of members so that they could also get a good salary.”
Now Chan Yean is worried about the fate of his sons, aged 16 and 19, who he says are unaware they are members of the CFF.
“I would like the authorities not to arrest my sons,” Chan Yean said. “They know nothing about this movement. This is my mistake. This hurts my head. I should not have involved them in this.”
Teang Vuthea, the Cambodian Defenders’ Project lawyer representing the insurgents’ commander Kiri Kim, said his client confessed to ordering Friday’s attack.
Kiri Kim has also denied speculation that the attack was a political ploy orchestrated by the government, Teang Vuthea said. Kiri Kim has admitted to taking his orders directly from Chhun Yasith, the alleged leader of the CFF, Teang Vuthea said.
The US State Department issued a statement Tuesday denouncing last week’s violence. “We believe those guilty of crimes in this case should be brought to justice in accordance with due process of law,” said the statement.
On Monday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong said a request is being prepared to have Chhun Yasith extradited from the US.
Kiri Kim may also face criminal charges in the US, according to US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann.
“It is illegal for an American citizen to seek to overthrow a foreign government,” he said. Though Kiri Kim has confessed to directing the raid, Wiedemann said that is not enough to immediately seek prosecution against him.
“We are talking about [US] standards of evidence and justice. I’m not sure a confession is proof of anything.”
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)