Ten members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), a group of dissidents highly critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his close ties to Vietnam, were arrested over the last two days in Phnom Penh for allegedly plotting to incite violence, according to police.
The group had planned to lead a protest in front of the Vietnamese Embassy to coincide with Thursday’s anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, demanding that “Vietnam and Hun Sen’s regime… respect the Paris Peace Agreement,” according to an email from the group’s leader, Sam Serey, who lives in Denmark.
A statement posted to the National Police website said that 10 men were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey and Chamkar Mon districts during two operations on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
Those arrested were named as Chhun Nakong, 28; Liv Yi, 29; Chhun Chhat, 29; Chrach Much, 24; Lath Liheng, 22; Chan Sna, 27; Chhim Smak, 57; An Chann, 35; Chan Ra, 23; and Chhay Vich, 40.
The statement said police had collected evidence and were questioning the suspects—mostly farmers and teachers—as well as compiling documents in preparation to send the group to court.
Chhay Sinarith, director of the Interior Ministry’s internal security department, confirmed that 10 people had been arrested but declined to give further details.
Contacted by telephone prior to the release of the statement, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said he knew five people had been apprehended on Wednesday but was not aware of the more recent arrests.
“We arrested them while they were holding a meeting to prepare activities to incite and cause violence in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Chantharith said of the arrests. “We are questioning them and we will implement the law.”
The police operations this week are the latest in an ongoing campaign by authorities to suppress the KNLF, which mostly distributes literature critical of the government but was last year branded a terrorist organization by Mr. Hun Sen.
In May, 13 of its members were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to between five and nine years in prison in a verdict denounced by rights groups as politically motivated.
Seven KNLF members, first arrested by Thai authorities in Thailand’s Pathum Thani province in March 2013 and spirited to Cambodia, were jailed. Six others, including Mr. Serey, were sentenced in absentia.
In a statement released Thursday, Mr. Serey said he was “very concerned” for the safety of the latest group to be arrested, calling their detention an “abuse of human rights and freedoms.”
“The KNLF appeals to national and international human rights institutes, to the international community and to the U.N. to intervene by putting pressure on the dictatorship regime of Hun Sen and the Vietnamese communists to release all protest leaders of KNLF immediately,” Mr. Serey said in the statement.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical supervisor at Licadho, said the rights group was aware of the arrests. “If they just planned to hold a protest outside the Vietnamese Embassy, then they should not have been arrested,” he said.
However, Thursday’s police statement claimed the KNLF was “training terrorist forces to secretly plant explosives near the Thai border” and building a network in Cambodia to collect information to send to its Denmark-based “ringleader.”
“This movement has the purpose to topple the Cambodian government through the use of illegal armed force and sends secret agents to spy on important military bases,” the statement said.
The statement also accuses Mr. Serey of plotting terrorist activities, including the placement of explosives in front of the Council of Ministers and TV3 station in Phnom Penh in 2009.
The government previously blamed another supposed terrorist organization, the Tiger Head Movement, of planting the explosives, which never went off.
Police have yet to release any evidence that members of the KNLF had violent plans or the weapons necessary to carry them out.
Nonetheless, reading out the guilty verdict against the 13 convicted KNLF members in April, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Seng Neang said that the group was “guilty of plotting to overthrow the nation.”
“Between 2009 and 2011, the Khmer National Liberation Front was created to act against the government,” Judge Neang said at the time. “They distributed leaflets calling for people to make chaos in society, and they used the land of Thailand to hide.”
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