Rebellion Leader Admits Attack, Faces Law

Displaying remarkable composure for a man is his position, Richard Kiri Kim, the Cambo­dian-American arrested for leading the anti-government attack on Phnom Penh last week, freely admitted Monday that he commanded the attack and does not fear the consequences.

Kiri Kim seemed in good health and strong spirits at the interrogation department of the Ministry Interior, where he has been under heavy security since his arrest Saturday in Siem Reap town as he was boarding a flight to Thailand.

Responding to several questions as he posed for photographs, Kiri Kim, who returned from overseas to Cambodia following the 1993 election, said he commanded the for­ces that struck Phnom Penh early Friday morning.

Kiri Kim also said he is not worried about the consequences of leading the rebel assault, which left between four and eight rebels and civilians dead and more than a dozen members of the security forces injured.

But the arrest of Kiri Kim as leader of the anti-government Cambodian Freedom Fighter stunned people who knew him from his days as an NGO worker based in Phnom Penh and a one-time supporter of a government-aligned candidate to the National Election Committee.

Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho, said Kiri Kim in 1997 vocally supported the pro-CPP candidate to represent local NGOs on the

11-member NEC.

The vote to elect a representative to the NEC was marred by allegations of possible vote buying and fraud when Chea Cham Reun, president of the Khmer Youth Development Organization—who counted businessman Teng Bunma among his benefactors—beat Lao Mong Hay, president of the Khmer Institute of Democracy by 84 votes to 45.

During the polling, Kiri Kim shot down protests by Iv Borin, representative of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Coffel), that the identity of the voting delegates could not be authenticated.

Both Coffel and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) later called for a new election stating the vote was tainted with corruption and that Chea Cham Reun had held a dinner for local NGO officials the night before the vote which government officials also attended.

Sek Sophal, executive director of Coffel, said Monday that Kiri Kim was a close friend of Chea Cham Reun. “We are very surprised he is a freedom fighter,” Sek Sophal said, adding that Kiri Kim was well known for his interest in gaining personal power.

Director General of National Police Hok Lundy said Kiri Kim will stand trial in a civilian court and not the country’s military court, as was feared by human rights workers.

Kiri Kim will be charged with terrorism and other crimes aimed at undermining the government of Cambodia, Hok Lundy said

“His purpose was to topple the government,” Hok Lundy said. Last week’s attack was only the first stage of other attacks planned by Richard Kiri Kim and his organization, he said.

An arrest warrant for the US-based leader of the freedom fighters, identified as Chhun Yasith, is being prepared for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of an extradition request, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

Diplomatic sources based in Phnom Penh were still keeping a open mind on the incident Monday, noting that the attack, its defeat and the quick arrest of ringleaders seemed orchestrated.

“I tend to think the whole thing was staged,” said one Asian diplomatic official who didn’t want to be named.

“This definitely benefits [Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” the diplomat said.

But Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara strongly criticized allegations the attack was a ploy to be used as leverage by the government against its domestic opponents and to stall a Khmer Rouge trial.

“We have the documents to prove who was involved in the attack. The [attack] is not a political issue. Some people just want to turn this back on the government,” Chea Sophara said.

Five alleged leaders of the rebel organization were arrested Sunday and Monday, bringing the total arrests by Military Police to 61, according to Chhin Chanpor, Municipal Military police commander.

Twenty of the suspects who proved not to have been involved in the attack were released Monday afternoon.

Among the five arrested Sunday and Monday were former CPP Party member Nou Beng and Funcinpec military official Nou Sarun.

Government Spokesman Khieu Kanharith confirmed that Nou Beng was a senior Health Ministry official from 1979 to 1993, but was sacked in the same year and later frequently changed political affiliation in a search for power.

“I think he is a very ambitious man. He is trying to find his place by joining many political parties,” Khieu Kanharith said.

In 1996, Nou Beng joined the Khmer Nation Party—the precursor to the Sam Rainsy Party—for about three months, said Party Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang Monday.

Nou Sarun is a former deputy chief of staff for Military Region 2 but was recently working at RCAF commander-in-chief headquarters.

Municipal Court Deputy Chief Prosecutor Yet Chakriya said the first six  of the 41 suspects were brought to court Monday. Ten more will be brought on each successive day. Yet Chakriya said it is too early to say what they will be charged with.

(Additional reporting Seth Meixner and Gina Chon)

 

 

 

 

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