The US Embassy is looking into the case of four men charged by the Pursat Provincial Court with plotting to attack Vietnam and Thailand through a so-called illegal armed force identified as the “Khmer Empire Movement,” officials said.
“We are looking into reports about these arrests and have no details that we can share at this time,” US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote by e-mail Monday.
A senior government official said on condition of anonymity Sunday that the government is taking the case, which he said was terrorist in nature, very seriously and is working with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is not political, he added.
Daigle said by telephone Tuesday that the US Embassy is not aware of any FBI involvement in the case.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the US is assisting in the case because of claims by the suspects that they were receiving orders from their counterparts in the US. Khieu Sopheak said he could not confirm whether the FBI is investigating.
“The suspects, according to their confessions, said they received the orders from residents in the [US],” Khieu Sopheak said, but declined to elaborate.
On May 11, Pursat Provincial Court charged three Cham Muslim men with plotting to form an illegal armed force aimed at violently taking back Cambodian and Cham territory lost centuries ago to Vietnam and Thailand.
Officials said that the Khmer Empire Movement was trying to recruit more than 400 Cham Muslims into an armed militia.
On Friday, Pursat Provincial Court Prosecutor Top Chan Sireyvuth said the court would investigate whether the SRP may be behind the alleged plot, following the arrest of SRP-affiliated suspect Thab The.
Top Chan Sireyvuth said that Thab The told the court that he works for SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy’s Committee 14. The court is trying to establish if Committee 14 is connected to the Khmer Empire Movement, he said.
Cheam Channy was arrested in February 2005 and jailed for a year after police claimed that Committee 14 was an illegal shadow army. The jailing of Cheam Channy sparked outrage from human rights groups who said the case against the lawmaker was politically motivated.
Contacted on Tuesday, Top Chan Sireyvuth said that Thab The has told him that Cheam Channy had nothing to do with the “Khmer Empire Movement.”
“When I asked [Thab The] he said that Cheam Channy and the Sam Rainsy Party is not involved with this movement,” he said, adding that he did not know what Thab The had told the investigating judge.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)