Trial Begins for Alleged KNLF Members Accused of ‘Plotting’

Two alleged members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF)—a political advocacy group seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling CPP—were denied bail on Tuesday as the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began its trial of the pair and eight others arrested in October on accusations of “plotting.”

Presiding Judge Chea Sokheang decided to keep Chhay Vet, a 41-year-old English teacher, and Pen Chanra, a 23-year-old farmer, in prison between their court appearances during the trial. Hearings began Tuesday with the questioning of Chhun Chhat, a 28-year-old security guard who admitted to having contact with Sam Serey, the KNLF’s Denmark-based founder.

Chhay Vet, center, and other alleged members of the Khmer National Liberation Front leave the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after the first day of their 'plotting' trial. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Chhay Vet, center, and other alleged members of the Khmer National Liberation Front leave the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after the first day of their ‘plotting’ trial. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Serey is on trial in the same case as the 10 on charges of plotting in the role of an “instigator.” He was charged in absentia.

Mr. Chhat told the court Tuesday that he was working as a guard at a hotel in Bangkok when Mr. Serey called him and asked him to go to Phnom Penh in October to join marches to submit petitions at several embassies around the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.

The request followed a series of tense protests outside the Vietnamese Embassy that were steeped in historical grievances.

“The deputy prosecutor has charged you with plotting. Did you do it?” Judge Sokheang asked. Mr. Chhat replied that he had not.

The judge then asked Mr. Chhat what was the point of joining the march to deliver petitions at the embassies in Phnom Penh.

“I joined the demonstration in order to demand real democracy, to demand that Vietnam acknowledge that Kampuchea Krom is Khmer territory,” he said.

“So, is joining the KNLF the only way to get democracy?” asked Consulting Judge Meng Tony. “What benefit did you hope to gain?”

“We hoped to gain the common benefits of respect of human rights, real democracy and making Vietnam acknowledge the reality of history,” Mr. Chhat replied.

After the 10 alleged KNLF members were arrested in October, the National Police released a statement claiming the organization was “training terrorist forces to secretly plant explosives near the Thai border” in its aims to topple the Cambodian government.

Authorities have yet to produce any evidence to support the claim.

Judge Sokheang did not say when the trial would resume.

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