Rebel Arrests Criticized as Political Purge

Human rights workers and NGO officials say the government’s investigation of the Cambo­dian Freedom Fighters is creating an atmosphere of fear, after six men from Pailin were arrested for allegedly being members of the anti-government group.

Two of the men arrested in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold are the top activists for the Sam Rainsy Party in Pailin and four of them joined opposition lead­er Sam Rainsy when he went to Pailin on Nov 8 for a Kathen ceremony.

On Monday, all six were charged with acts of terrorism and membership in an illegal armed force, bringing the total number of those charged to 46, said Yet Chakriya, prosecutor at Phnom Penh municipal court.

He said the suspects were pro­mised high positions in the government by Chhun Ya­sith, the leader of CFF, which is blamed for the Nov 24 attack on government offices that left as many as eight dead and dozens injured.

Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of De­mo­cracy, said the arrests are similar to circumstances in the early 1960s, when political opponents were randomly accused of being Khmer Bleu and Khmer Rouge.

“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen can use [the fighting] to justify everything,” Lao Mong Hay said. “And the question is, ‘Who is next?’ ”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the arrests were creating the same climate of suspicion that existed during the Khmer Rouge regime, when family members didn’t even trust each other.  “This can have an affect on national stability.”

The Human Rights Action Com­­mittee, an umbrella group of human rights organizations, issued a statement last week, saying it was concerned the arrests have not been done according to the rule of law.

“We see that members from Fun­cinpec and now from the Sam Rainsy Party are being arr­ested, even though they have nothing to do [with the CFF],” a hu­man rights worker said. “This has al­ready created an atmosphere of fear.”

Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman, said the arrests have not been random, noting that members of all political parties, including the ruling CPP, have been taken into custody. “The evidence is more important than the political party,” he said. “To say we are going after somebody is oversimplifying everything.”

During a National Assembly debate on the 2001 budget, Sam Rainsy accused the government of creating the CFF and orchestrating the fighting as a pretext to spend more on defense and less on social services—a theory also voiced by several diplomatic officials since the attack.

And Sun Kim Hun, the opposition National Assembly member from Pailin, said in a statement that Hun Sen is using the CFF to go after political opponents. The Sam Rainsy Party overwhelmingly won over voters to obtain the Pailin seat in the National Assem­bly in the 1998 elections.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon rejected their claims and in turn asked why the opposition party hasn’t issued strong statements condemning the attack.

“If I were the opposition, I would not be silent like you and oppose it absolutely,” Keat Ch­hon said during the Assembly debate.

Bhun Chan To, president of the Sam Rainsy Party City Council in Pailin and a lieutenant in the Pailin municipality’s military, is one of the six charged Monday. He said in court he was a member of the CFF before the 1998 elections, but dropped out when Sam Rain­sy Party leaders told members that Chhun Yasith had resigned from the party.

Chhun Yasith was a founding member of the Khmer Nation Party, the precursor to the Sam Rainsy Party, but left when his goals of armed resistance against Hun Sen didn’t coincide with the party’s principles of peace and non-violence. Chhun Yasith al­legedly founded the group after the factional fighting in July 1997.

“I met Chhun Yasith three times in 1998 in Thailand,” Bhun Chan To said. “He asked me to col­lect more armed forces to fight the government. But after Chhun Ya­sith resigned, I stopped all activity.”

Ek Sam Oun, deputy commander of Military Region 5, which handled the arrests of the suspects from Pailin, said the men—most of whom are former Khmer Rouge soldiers—were named on a, dubious spreadsheet alleged to be a CFF attack plan.

“We collected wea­pons from their house,” he said. “Even if they did not openly fight, they were involved in the planning of the attack.”

Bhun Chan To, who has been or­ganizing the opposition party’s campaign for the upcoming commune elections in Pailin, said the only weapon he had was a pistol, which he has permission to carry.

Hem Em, 46, vice president of the Sam Rainsy Party Pailin City Council and an employee in Pailin’s environment office, was arrested at his home without an arrest warrant last Wednesday, opposition party members said.

“I absolutely am not a CFF member,” he said. “I am only accused of being one, and I ask human rights groups to help me.”

Seng Narin, an RCAF colonel and deputy commander of Divi­sion 22 in Pailin, admitted that he met Chhun Yasith twice in Thai­land. He says he does not belong to any political party.

“Chhun Yasith told me to collect more armed forces in order to attack the government, but he didn’t say when the attack would happen,” Seng Narin said.

Bun Chan Khen, a lieutenant colo­nel in the Pailin municipality’s military, said he is unsure if he is a CFF member. He said he is not an opposition party member, but has refused to join the CPP.

“I’m very confused so I couldn’t say at this time whether I’m a member of CFF,” he said. “It’s not clear.”



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