Police Claim Anti-Gov’t Group Raising Own Army

The Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), a political advocacy group that opposes Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling CPP, is in the process of training a secret army consisting of hundreds of armed terrorists intent on overthrowing the government, national police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said Sunday.

The spokesman’s comments during a press conference at the National Police headquarters in Phnom Penh on Sunday morning follow the arrest of 10 KNLF members last month for plotting to incite violence. A police statement issued at the time said the dissident group was “training terrorist forces to secretly plant explosives near the Thai border” and “topple the government through the use of illegal armed force.”

“We have evidence in the form of confiscated lists to prove that they have hundreds of armed forces, and we believe they are hiding in the country,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith told reporters Sunday.

He said that among the evidence against the 10 men arrested on October 22 and 23 was a document—issued by KNLF president Sam Serey and thumbprinted by the suspects—announcing the establishment of a rebel army and its own defense ministry.

“We questioned the suspects and they confessed that they recruited armed forces and they also received training at the Cambodian-Thai border,” he said, adding the men admitted to enlisting migrant workers, monks and students studying in Thailand.

Lt. Gen. Chantharith said police had also obtained 461 letters proving the KNLF’s intention to provoke citizens to rise up against the government, and accused the group of attempting to “change history” by disseminating CDs and books entitled “Uproot January 7,” which were critical of the government, King Norodom Sihamoni and the late King Norodom Sihanouk.

He said authorities also had documents to show that the KNLF was born out of the Tiger Head movement, another supposed terrorist organization, and accused both groups of being behind two separate bomb plots in Phnom Penh in 2007 and 2009. Four members of the Tiger Head movement were sentenced to between 20 and 28 years in prison for the 2009 case, in which explosives were found outside the Council of Ministers building and TV3 station.

Lt. Gen. Chantharith said police were still attempting to root out KNLF members in the country. “We are still targeting people and… searching to make arrests,” he said.

Contacted on Friday, Mr. Serey —who has denied earlier police accusations that he was a member of the Tiger Head movement but admitted to once being close friends with its leader, Som Ek—said he was not involved in the 2009 bomb plot, which he said had been fabricated by the government.

“I would like to reject…that I am behind the bomb plot in 2009. I have never used any violence,” Mr. Serey said by email from Denmark, where he has been living in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest by Cambodian authorities.

“I think this is a plot of government to make a story to arrest me so the government themselves who put a bomb in order to blame on KNLF and arrest us,” he said.

Thirteen KNLF members were sentenced to between five and nine years in prison in April for plotting to overthrow the government in what was widely seen as a politically motivated verdict based on scant evidence.

(Additional reporting by George Wright)

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