Two members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), a government-branded terrorist group, were arrested yesterday as they attempted to hold a news conference in Phnom Penh, police and the group’s president said.
The KNLF planned to hold the event alongside the little-known Inter-Races High Commissioner Organization at the latter’s office in Chbar Ampov district to “seek the political solution for a long political crisis in Cambodia,” according to a media statement released last week.
However, the event was shut down just before 9 a.m. and two KNLF members were arrested, said district police chief Em Saravuth, who accused the group of failing to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry.
“Yesterday and the day be- fore yesterday, the ministry and municipal police came to advise them not to do it because [they] don’t have the legal permission,” he said, adding that he was not present for the arrests but that “perhaps three” had been detained.
According to the government-aligned Fresh News website, Khun Sawak Khet, of the Inter-Races High Commissioner Organization, was the third person arrested. Mr. Sawak Khet’s telephone was switched off yesterday when attempts were made to reach him for comment.
Mr. Saravuth, the police chief, accused the KNLF of having arranged an illegal meeting under the banner of the Inter-Races High Commissioner Organization.
“We came down to cooperate with them two times already, asking them to get the permission letter because they put the logo as an organization,” he said, referring to the Inter-Races High Commissioner Organization. “They concealed themselves as it was a Khmer National Liberation Front meeting.”
“They don’t have the legal permission from the Interior Ministry and expert officials already came down to advise them but they did not follow the advice.”
Sam Serey, the KNLF leader who is in Denmark to avoid prison for plotting to overthrow the government, named the arrested members of his group as Thuy Vy and Ditlim Sopheawattei.
Mr. Vy is the minister of Agriculture in Mr. Serey’s “government in exile,” which he founded in October to mark the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords. Mr. Serey is the “president” of the government.
“They tried to arrest our diplomat and member that came for negotiation to end the conflict,” Mr. Serey said in an email.
“The arrest of Thuy Vy is a thing that the international community and U.N. should not ignore about the human rights violation in Cambodia.”
Those affiliated with the KNLF have faced serious consequences in recent years.
In December, 11 members of the group were handed five- to nine-year sentences over 2014 plotting charges by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, despite most renouncing their support for the KNLF in court. The defendants claimed they had planned a peaceful demonstration in front of the Vietnamese Embassy, but authorities claimed the event was intended to sow violence and disorder.
In 2014, 12 men and one woman were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and were also handed between five and nine years in prison.
Those arrested in the latest incident were being questioned at the municipal police headquarters last night. Municipal and National Police officials could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Serey said he had not been in contact with the KNLF members since their arrest, and that he feared for their safety.
“They are senior active members in KNLF. If they do not release them and the other political prisoners, I cannot guarantee what will happen next,” he said.