Three RCAF generals with links to the SRP and Funcinpec were arrested by military police Tuesday on charges of organized crime and leading an illegal armed force, officials said.
National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha identified the men as Major-General Ut Sakhan, Funcinpec’s deputy commander of Brigade 70; Brigadier-General Khieng Savorn, a member of the SRP’s steering committee; and Brigadier-General Men Saran, deputy commander of RCAF Military Region Two and a former Funcinpec member.
The three generals were arrested at separate locations in Phnom Penh on Tuesday evening, Sao Sokha said.
“We made the arrests according to the [request of] Battambang court,” he said. “They committed the crimes in the province.”
Battambang Provincial Court Prosecutor Sar Yosthavarak said by telephone that the three are accused of organizing armed robberies and “building an armed force.”
“We got hard evidence before making the arrests—we have in hand 16 grenades, one pistol and one AK[-47] rifle,” Sar Yosthavarak said.
Battambang provincial police chief Kang Sakhan said the generals were arrested after seven armed bandits arrested Monday implicated them during interrogation about 18 robberies in the province.
“The answers we got pointed to there being three generals behind these robberies,” Kang Sakhan said.
Beyond robbing people of cash and 40 motorbikes, the seven bandits are also accused of killing two people, Sar Yosthavarak said. Some of the seven are former soldiers, he added.
The generals stand accused of breaching Article 36 of the Untac law, which relates to organized crime, according to copies of their arrest warrants.
Under the article, anyone who has taken part in an association set up to plan one or more crimes is liable to between three and 15 years behind bars.
SRP officials said Khieng Sa-vorn’s arrest was probably politically motivated, while Funcinpec declined immediate comment.
The SRP released a statement Wednesday condemning Khieng Savorn’s arrest, calling it a “serious violation of human rights and procedure.”
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said Khieng Savorn’s involvement with armed robbers was unlikely given that his health has been so poor over the last four years that he needs to be spoon-fed by his wife.
“Unless we can assure ourselves otherwise, the only conclusion is that it is politically motivated,” Mu Sochua said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that from the party’s experience, “when a member is arrested it is usually political.”
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero declined to comment on the arrest of Ut Sakhan, who is also the former commander of Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s bodyguards, saying Funcinpec needs to investigate his arrest first.
Nouv Sovathero said he thought that Men Saran had joined the SRP after leaving Funcinpec, though Mu Sochua said she was unable to confirm this.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, Funcinpec secretary-general and former leader of royalist military forces, could not be reached for comment.
Muth Channtha, spokesman for the Norodom Ranariddh Party, said none of the three belong to his party.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak referred all questions to the military police.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said his organization was investigating the arrests.
Khieng Savorn’s family has told Adhoc that the general was detained by plainclothes military policemen who did not present an arrest warrant, Thun Saray said, adding that this is not in accordance with the law.
Sao Sokha said his men did present warrants.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment, saying he was unaware of the details of the case.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)