Testimony will begin Feb 18 at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in a trial for 20 suspected members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, most of whom were arrested almost a full year after the failed coup on Nov 24, 2000, that left at least four people dead.
The suspects face charges of terrorism and membership in an armed force, as outlined in Untac laws.
This is the fourth trial of suspected CFF members. Provincial courts in Battambang and Kompong Cham are planning to try alleged CFF suspects in March. In two earlier trials, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced a total of 56 accused CFF members to sentences ranging from three years to life.
Chhun Yasith, the self-confessed ringleader of the CFF who resides in Long Beach, in the US state of California, was tried in absentia in the first trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Siem Reap provincial court tried a handful of CFF suspects three weeks ago, according to one NGO human rights worker. The outcome of that trial could not be determined Sunday.
Although the government detained upwards of 50 suspects in the days immediately following the Nov 24 attack, most of the suspects scheduled to go to trial Feb 18 were arrested in September or October 2001.
Members of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party denounced those arrests at the time, alleging that the CPP was using the CFF anti-terrorist crackdown as an excuse to arrest commune candidates from the opposing parties. Eight of the 64 suspected CFF members arrested in September and October were reported to be Funcinpec commune candidates or activists, stated a report issued by the human rights group Licadho.
Most of the 20 suspects to be tried Feb 18 have been detained at Prey Sar prison outside Phnom Penh since their arrests. One international observer did interview four CFF suspects at PJ prison in Phnom Penh.
Although the observer declined to identify the suspects, he said the health of the suspects was “good.” The observer declined to comment on whether the suspects he interviewed had been detained past the six-month pre-trial detention deadline.
The observer said that all but one of the suspects interviewed at PJ prison had legal representation, but that the lawyers for the suspects had not seen their clients “for some time.” The observer said one suspect had no lawyer, did not know why she was being detained and did not remember speaking to an investigating judge.
Another human rights worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the suspects detained at Prey Sar showed signs of poor diets and symptoms of beriberi, a disease caused by a Vitamin B deficiency.
Many of the CFF members who were sentenced in June 2001 and September 2001 testified that they were not members of the CFF but were farmers or laborers who were paid, coerced, or forced at gunpoint to shoot AK-47s and B-40 rocket launchers at the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Rural Development.