Prime Minister Hun Sen has formed a commission to investigate the possible collusion of members of the country’s public administration and security forces with the Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
The 19-member commission has been given power to suspend any government employee, including RCAF soldiers, military police and national police, suspected of involvement with the US-based group.
Co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry will lead the commission while Co-Ministers of Defense Tea Banh and Prince Sisowath Sirirath will act as vice-chairmen.
Commission members will also work with foreign governments to seek the extradition of CFF members to stand trial in Cambodia, according to a document announcing the formation of the commission, which was signed by Hun Sen on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Richard Kiri Kim, a US citizen and self-confessed CFF commander of the armed skirmishes last Friday in Phnom Penh, and two other suspects appeared for the second time at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Ham Mengse, the investigating judge in the case, said Thursday that the pre-trial investigation could take longer than the six months legally allowed due to the large number of suspects involved.
Wearing a fresh set of clothes, a relaxed looking Kiri Kim told journalists that no one else influenced him to stage the assaults, as he left the court house escorted by armed guards.
“No one hired me to do this,” he said before being whisked from the court by a convoy of Flying Tiger police officers.
Suspicion has been brewing among some foreign diplomats over the actual objective of the early morning attack, which inflicted minimal damage but left between four and eight rebels dead and more than a dozen security personnel and civilians injured.
Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Yet Chakriya on Wednesday recommended that Kiri Kim and 38 other rebels be charged with forming an illegal armed group and acts of terrorism, both of which carry life sentences. He questioned another three suspects Thursday.
Nuon Nam, deputy chief of police in Pursat province, Ma Soben, a former Funcinpec deputy police chief in Stung Treng province, and Nou Uth Buntha from Kompong Cham province were questioned about their alleged involvement with the freedom fighters, said their lawyer, Kep Khy.
An Interior Ministry official who requested anonymity said the nationwide purge of suspected anti-government sympathizers has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among members of the CPP who do not support Hun Sen’s leadership.
Hun Sen critics fear the CFF-witchunt will be used to target them, the official said.
“No one can live in Cambodia if there is a blacklist like this,” he said.
A provincial official in Kampot said Wednesday that the situation was tense in nearby Kep following rumors that Chhouk Rin, a local former Khmer Rouge commander, was a CFF suspect.
On Thursday Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea quoted a military source who claimed that a group of 50 RCAF soldiers in Kompong Speu province had mutinied and fled to Kirirom mountain after their commander was named a CFF suspect.
The claim was denied Thursday by Men Siborn, Kompong Speu provincial military police commander.
Military commanders in Kompong Som and Kompong Chhnang provinces were contacted and military police troops were sent to investigate the allegations, but they proved false, Men Siborn said.
“The situation is very quiet in my province,” he said. “People are still making business as usual.”