Another Sam Rainsy Party activist claiming to represent defecting members of the party’s so-called illegal militant branch appeared at the state-controlled TVK studio Monday morning to give a confession prompted by off-camera handlers.
Heng Savy’s confession of involvement in an opposition-led militant group was overseen by Long Serey, leader of Thursday’s defection. With him was Seng Sovannara, president of the pro-Hun Sen group the Pagoda Children, Intelligentsia and Students Association.
The Pagoda Boys, as the group is commonly known, were named in a US State Department report last year as the perpetrators of violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Long Serey, though a card-carrying opposition party member, has been branded an Interior Ministry-planted spy and provocateur by Sam Rainsy Party activists—a charge he denies.
Heng Savy, 31, told the TVK audience that opposition party lawmaker Cheam Channy had asked him to recruit police officials in the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap. He said 30 of his followers would make confessions today in Battambang. “I am the chief who was assigned to recruit police officials,” he said.
After Hun Sen last week accused the opposition party of recruiting an armed force, which the prime minister likened to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters, Cheam Channy instructed him to remain calm and not go to the authorities, Heng Savy said.
“Cheam Channy told me it was a political problem, not related to an armed force. Some people told me that if you are in hiding, some NGOs will take you to live in the US, but I don’t believe that,” he said into the camera.
The hosting commentator made closing comments and the take ended.
Then Long Serey jumped in.
“Why did you not say that they are really an armed force, not just spokesmen? You also forgot to say that we want the authorities to arrest them and the court to prosecute them.”
“Oh, I forgot,” Heng Savy said.
Then a TVK official added: “You also forgot to appeal to other followers to confess.”
A technician rewound the tape, watching it on a monitor, to where Heng Savy ended his first statement.
Then the camera rolled again, and Heng Savy said: “I would like to appeal to people who want to join [the defection] to call me. I will help them confess. It was illegal to join the armed force.”
A document bearing the Sam Rainsy Party logo was taped to a curtain on the set and filmed as evidence. The document was purported to be instructions, signed by Cheam Channy, for Heng Savy to recruit police officials.
TVK aired the 25-minute spliced confession at 6:30 pm Thursday.
Cheam Channy is in charge of the Sam Rainsy Party’s Committee No 14—a “shadow ministry,” like those of opposition parties abroad that oversees activities of the military and related government departments, opposition party officials have said.
They said that Committee No 14 is an openly run network of “spokesmen” who report to the party’s leadership on improprieties such as land grabs and corruption.
Publicly released evidence against the alleged armed force is thin, consisting of government-coordinated public confessions and documents on Committee No 14 members.
Incoming Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said last week that there was no evidence that Committee No 14 had planned any attack, but that such a “shadow ministry” could “disturb the psychology of the army.”
John McCain, an influential US senator, has attacked Hun Sen’s charges of Sam Rainsy Party militancy as “intimidating rhetoric” and “far-fetched allegations.”
Asked on Monday what kind of evidence he had to prove that the group was militarily inclined, RCAF intelligence chief Mol Roeup referred to its structure, which is organized by military regions. “Right now we have people to prove that,” he said.
“I made a report to the government about the armed force, and I filed a complaint to the Military Court on behalf of the Royal Government,” he added.
Mol Roeup confirmed that the Pagoda Boys were involved in facilitating confessions. He did not elaborate.
A letter from King Norodom Sihanouk, requesting that Hun Sen pardon the members of Committee 14, was posted Monday by the entrance to the group’s office at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters.
Hun Sen denied the King’s request, saying that the opposition activists who had appealed to the King for intervention had “cheated” him.
Hun Sen said Sunday the matter should be settled by the court and that he will call on the National Assembly to lift Cheam Channy’s parliamentary immunity when it convenes. The Assembly is scheduled to meet today.
Cheam Channy said Monday he would face the charges if necessary. “I will not flee the country. If the National Assembly lifts my immunity, I will go to court,” he said.
A prosecutor is considering Mol Roeup’s complaint, and no arrest warrants have been issued yet, said Ney Thol, director of the Military Court.
He and Mol Roeup declined to say how many people were included in the complaint.
Hun Sen said Sunday the “spies” in Committee No 14 had 15 days to confess without facing punishment.
Meanwhile, two brothers who joined Long Serey for Thursday’s defection, but then deserted him in fear, remain in hiding in the forest, their father, Ung Bunsom, said Monday.
Mol Roeup said Monday that the brothers had not fled, but returned to their homes in Battambang.