Cambodia has detained a group of four ethnic minority Khmer Krom from Vietnam and two locals accused of terrorism and plotting armed revolt against the Cambodian government in charges that have been rejected by rights groups.
The men were arrested in Thailand and deported to Cambodia last week, National Police Commission spokesman Kiet Chantharith said Tuesday.
He linked the men to an alleged terrorist group, saying police are preparing to make further related arrests.
"We are investigating the Khmer Front Movement. We have a list of suspects and we are working on the case," he said.
Cambodian authorities say the Khmer Front Movement is an armed group based in southern Cambodia’s Takeo province seeking to liberate the Khmer Krom ethnic minority in Vietnam.
Kiet Chantharith said the six men had been arrested on a warrant based on their suspected involvement in terrorism, distributing anti-government leaflets, and illegal establishment of an armed force.
They appeared twice last week before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which on Tuesday ordered them detained pending trial.
Khmer Krom minority
Four of the six suspects are ethnic Khmer Krom from Vietnam who had moved to Phnom Penh and then fled shortly before their arrest to seek asylum in Thailand.
The Khmer Krom minority, from southern Vietnam’s lower Mekong delta region which Cambodians sometimes call "Kampuchea Krom" or "Lower Cambodia, are ethnically similar to most Cambodians and are considered outsiders in Vietnam, where they face social persecution and strict religious controls.
Many Khmer Krom move to Cambodia, where they are often perceived as Vietnamese and are regarded as one of the country’s most disenfranchised groups.
Chan Tha, the wife of one of the four detained Khmer Krom, said their family fled to Thailand because of their economic situation and government suppression in Vietnam.
Her husband Thach Ty was not involved with any crime or anti-government movement, she told RFA’s Khmer Service from Thailand, adding that he was arrested by Thai police on March 6.
The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, an international group representing Khmer Krom around the world, rejected claims that the six are connected with anti-terrorist activities or anti-government armed forces.
The group’s Cambodia director Taing Sarak said Tuesday that he hoped the men would receive justice.
"The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation will monitor the case to see if the law is breached or not. But if they have been framed, they must be provided justice,” he said.
He said one of the six men had been detained once and jailed for two years on charges of distributing anti-government leaflets. He was released in January.
A Cambodian rights activist for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) was also imprisoned in the case, in a conviction that drew international scrutiny because of legal proceedings rights groups said were “outrageously flawed.”
The Licadho staffer, Leang Sokchouen, was originally convicted on charges of disinformation and later handed a prison term for helping distribute leaflets critical of celebrations of the January 7, 1979, invasion of Cambodia by Vietnamese forces, before his release May last year.
Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.