International Community Only Hope for Arrested ‘Terrorists’

Ten members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), who were arrested this week for allegedly plotting to incite violence, were questioned in court Friday and appealed to the international community for support, claiming the accusations against them are politically motivated.
The group of dissidents, who mostly distribute literature denouncing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, were questioned by Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth on Friday regarding their role in the KNLF, which planned to lead a protest in front of the Vietnamese Embassy to coincide with Thursday’s anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.
Members of the Khmer National Liberation Front, who were arrested this week, leave the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday after being questioned for allegedly plotting to incite violence. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Lath Liheng, 22, who was arrested on Wednesday at a another member’s home in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, denied Friday any accusation that the KNLF planned to incite violence or train “terrorist forces to secretly plant explosives near the Thai border,” as a police statement claimed on Thursday.

“I came to peacefully demand that Vietnam respect the Paris Peace Agreements. Police say I am a terrorist but these are just accusations. It’s a big injustice,” said Mr. Liheng while awaiting questioning at the court.

“I request that the international community intervenes because we need help. I fear they will put us in jail for a long time. The prosecutor said that we wanted to topple the government,” he said, adding he only “wanted the Vietnamese out of Cambodia.”

KNLF President Sam Serey, contacted by telephone in Denmark, where he says he has been given political asylum, said he feared arrests of his members would continue as the government continues its crusade to suppress the group.

“I am sure there will be more arrests because this is only 10 of our members and we have many more,” Mr. Serey said.

“From previous experience with the Hun Sen regime, they don’t want us to get bigger so they always arrest to imprison,” he added. “That is why I appeal to the international community and the U.N. to put the pressure to release them, or they will not be released.”

In May, 13 KNLF members were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to between five and nine years in prison. Seven of the defendants were sent to prison while six others, including Mr. Serey, were tried in absentia and remain at large.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, who met with Mr. Serey in Bangkok earlier this year, said the KNLF has shown no signs of terrorist activity and called the latest arrests politically motivated.

“The targeting of the KNLF is a continuation of persecution they suffered from before last year’s elections, when Prime Minister Hun Sen identified the group as a security threat and then immediately tried to tie them to the opposition CNRP party,” Mr. Robertson said via email.

“These are politically motivated actions where Hun Sen picks out a small political group and uses it as a whipping boy to intimidate other activists,” he added.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith refuted claims that the group had only peaceful intentions.

“This group is an illegal group which is against the government. This organization has created an illegal armed force and planned to put explosives in Phnom Penh,” said Mr. Chantharith.

Men Hengtith, chief of Phnom Penh’s internal security police, said the court would continue to question the detainees Saturday.

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