Eight persons arrested in Cambodia last week and accused of smuggling arms are not members of the Khmer National Liberation Front despite government claims, a KNLF leader told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday.
Speaking to RFA from exile in Denmark, Sam Serey—long wanted by the Cambodian government for operating what it calls a terrorist group—said the eight taken into custody in three Cambodian provinces have no connection to his organization.
“Those people are not members of the KNLF,” Serey said, speaking to RFA via Skype. “We have no connection with violence.”
“The Cambodian government is making up this plot to defame me and the KNLF because I met with U.N. special rapporteur Rhona Smith last week,” he said.
On Sept. 26, Special Rapporteur on Cambodia Rhona Smith delivered a report to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, criticizing recent national elections in Cambodia and calling the Southeast Asian nation a “de facto single party state,” according to an Oct. 2, 2018 report by the Phnom Penh Post.
Her comments drew a sharp rebuke this week from Cambodian government Phay Siphan, who accused Smith of lecturing the Cambodian people and urged her to “evaluate Cambodia based on the realities” of the country’s political and social situation, the Post said.
On Tuesday, Cambodian news outlet FreshNews said that a ninth arrest had been made in the arms smuggling case, with a suspect named Bdin Thorngyi—also called Duong, or Krauch—taken into custody in Preah Vihear province.
A rifle and a handgun, together with a small quantity of explosives, had also been seized, adding to the 28 AK-47 assault rifles discovered during last week’s arrests, media sources said.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Phay Siphan said that his government would have had strong cause to link those arrested to the KNLF before pressing charges against them.
Sam Serey should give up looking to the media to defend his group, he said, adding, “He is just trying to come up with excuses, but that is useless.”
“The best way for him to deal with this case is to look for a good lawyer,” he said.
'Hostile political group'
The Cambodian government considers the Khmer National Liberation Front a hostile political group that seeks to topple Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government.
In 2016, Sam Serey, who received political asylum in Denmark, was sentenced in absentia by a Cambodian court to nine years of imprisonment over alleged attempts to attack the government. Hun Sen has accused Sam Serey of committing treason.
According to the Phnom Penh Post, more than 20 affiliates of Sam Serey have been arrested in recent years, but none have ever been found with weapons.
On April 10, Hun Sen also accused Sam Serey and several other people including a Buddhist monk of plotting to set a bomb at Wat Phnom and Siem Reap during the Khmer New Year.
Hun Sen, however, failed to show any evidence of the plot except a leaked recorded phone conversation with a Buddhist that was published on the government-aligned online newspaper FreshNews of unconfirmed authenticity.
Sam Serey denied such accusation during an interview with RFA. The Buddhist monk who was implicated in the audio recording also denied the allegations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.