More Arrests In Bomb Plot Investigation

At least six more suspects have been arrested in northwestern Cambodia in connection with an alleged plot by an unidentified anti-government group to detonate bombs in Siem Reap town on Sunday night, police officials said.

Four suspects were arrested in Siem Reap province on Monday and Tuesday, followed by an arrest in Banteay Meanchey and an arrest in Battambang in which TNT bombs and two rifles were discovered Tuesday morning, police said.

A total of nine people have been detained since Sunday, when police arrested three men for allegedly planting high-explosive time bombs in the vicinity of the Angkor Century Hotel, where Asean ministers were attending a rural development meeting.

“Four more suspects were arrested [in Siem Reap] because they were involved with the three [bomb] suspects and stayed in a rented house with them,” said Morn Simon, Siem Reap Military Police commander.

Battambang province deputy Police Chief Chea Thoun said a suspect was arrested in Sampeov Loun district with two AK-47 rifles, a grenade and a TNT mine.

An Interior Ministry official said the suspect arrested in Banteay Meanchey confessed he was paid cash and given a motorcycle to take part in the attempted Siem Reap bombing.

Two masterminds of the bomb plot—identified as former Khmer Rouge soldiers—are being hunted in the northwest, police said.

The group had planned since late September to launch the attack in a bid to have the Asean meeting in Cambodia canceled, said the official, adding that police surveillance had prevented the execution of the plan.

National Police Director-General Hok Lundy said the suspects are still being questioned but have not divulged the names of their paymasters.

“They created terrorism. Their purpose was to destroy the Asean meeting so it would not happen. But we cracked down on them first,” Hok Lundy said.

“What they are doing is against the government,” he said.

Hok Lundy said security has been boosted countrywide, especially as the voter registration period for next year’s general election draws nearer.

A second police official said one of the suspects arrested in the northwest was a former royalist soldier now linked to the Sam Rainsy Party.

Sam Rainsy Party Cabinet Chief Phi Thach said connecting his party with criminal activity was a recurring charge from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

“We are always targeted as the guilty for every infraction, for every crime,” Phi Thach said. “It is so difficult for our supporters because they…are victims of fabricated guilt by the ruling party.”

The Siem Reap bomb discovery follows last month’s claims by Chhun Yasith—leader of the US-based Cambodian Freedom Fighters—that he would overthrow Hun Sen government before next year’s election.

Chhun Yasith, an accountant based in the US, claimed responsibility for sending dozens of mostly farmers-cum-rebels on a suicidal attack on government offices in Phnom Penh in No­vember 2000.

The CFF attack was followed by the arrest of hundreds of alleged CFF members and led to the imprisonment of nearly 100 people on varying charges of terrorism, membership of an armed group and illegal weapons possession.

Police have not linked Sunday’s bomb discoveries to the CFF. Hok Lundy said on Tuesday he was still seeking the extradition of Chhun Yasith.

Human rights workers said the arrests were targeting opponents of the CPP.

A Western diplomat said recently it was “interesting” that the CFF “skeleton” should emerge ahead of the elections, but would not elaborate, saying only that the em­bassy would be watching the situation develop.

Siem Reap hoteliers said on Tuesday that most visitors to the town were still unaware of the bomb plot.

“I don’t think this will affect tourism too much. It was only a small thing,” said Kong Chheng Lee, a technical manager supporting the Siem Reap Hotel and Guesthouse Association.

However, the Cambodian Mine Action Center bomb disposal expert who defused the three bombs said they could have caused massive damage.

Each of the three devices contained 1.5 kg of TNT powder that was likely extracted from mortar and rocket shells.

The timers were set to explode at intervals of between 30 minutes and 2 hours 30 minutes, the expert said.

“It is a big-sized bomb. One-and-half kilograms of TNT is very, very dangerous,” he said.

 

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