The leader of a U.S.-based Cambodian group pushing for democratic reforms in the Southeast Asian country has rejected charges that he and a local radio station chief conspired to oust the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sourn Sereyratha, leader of the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), admitted that he met with Mam Sonando, the director of Cambodia's independent Beehive Radio station, in the United States before Sonando was arrested in Phnom Penh in July on charges he masterminded a secessionist plot.
Government prosecutors had claimed during Mam Sonando's four-day trial in Phnom Penh last week that Mam Sonando was behind a May land revolt and ensuing bloody clashes in Kratie province’s Chhlong district as part of secessionist plans.
"It is true that I met with Mr. Mam Sonando. It is a meeting between a politician and a journalist. We talked about the misery of the people who have been starving and about the nation facing a crisis," Sourn Sereyratha told RFA's Khmer service.
"The KPPM is a civil movement working in accordance with laws. Mr. Mam Sonando came to see me because he was curious about the activities and policy of KPPM. As a journalist, he interviewed me for his broadcast," Sourn Sereyratha said.
"Journalists can talk to anybody. He can interview politicians, thieves, or even a murderer. There is nothing wrong with that," he said.
Sourn Sereyratha then cited overseas meetings between Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha of the Human Rights Party and exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had been convicted in absentia on various charges.
"He came to see Sam Rainsy and shook hands with him, and then when Kem Sokha returned to Cambodia, why wasn't he arrested?"
Sourn Sereyratha's group had on June 22 filed a complaint with The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on “crimes against humanity” allegedly committed by Hun Sen’s government and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Last week, at Mam Sonando's trial, prosecutor Meas Chan Pisedh argued that Mam Sonando planned to overthrow the government by working with Sourn Sereyratha, who lives in the United States.
Mam Sonando’s defense lawyer Sok Sam Eoun rejected the accusations in court, saying they had no "legal and factual" basis and calling for all charges against Mam Sonando to be dropped.
Mam Sonando is also the head of Cambodia’s Association of Democrats, which was linked to the revolt involving more than 1,000 families in Kratie province evicted by authorities from land they say they have farmed for years.
Cambodian authorities have said that the government owns the land, but activists contend that it had already been awarded as a concession to Russian firm Casotim, which plans to set up a rubber plantation.
Sourn Sereyratha also said that KPPM was working through "legitimate" means to throw out the current Cambodian government, saying it was "creating mounting misery for its own people."
"The majority of Cambodian people are not satisfied with the government. This government is drowning Cambodia and making people unhappy. We will achieve our goals through legitimate means," he said, citing a Khmer saying, “Wherever oppression exists, uprising follows.”
Reported by Sum Sok Ry for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.