Two men who were briefly arrested in May during a news conference organized by the Khmer National Liberation Front—a group branded by the government as “terrorists”—were questioned as witnesses on Monday, with one claiming the event had actually been designed to “dissolve the Front.”
Ditlim Sopheawattei, 42, and Khun Sawakkhet, 73, were arrested alongside KNLF member Thuy Vy, 29, during the event in Phnom Penh in May.
Mr. Sopheawattei and Mr. Sawakkhet were released soon after. But Mr. Vy, who is the “agriculture minister” in a “government in exile” launched by KNLF leader Sam Serey in Denmark last year, was charged with incitement to commit a felony.
Speaking after being questioned as a witness in the case at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday, Mr. Sawakkhet, a representative for the little-known Inter-Races High Commissioner Organization, said the event had actually been intended to announce the demise of the KNLF.
“We called them to come to hold a media conference to dissolve the Front in order to make our country have peace and go along with what Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen wants. He wants peace,” he said.
“I am scared…that there will be war again in my country if there is a Front,” he added.
Mr. Sopheawattei, on the other hand, said he had simply helped arrange the media conference to maintain peace in Cambodia. He refused to answer questions directly about his involvement with the KNLF.
This would not be the first time those suspected of having links to the KNLF have switched allegiances in court.
In October, some of 11 members of the group arrested in 2014 over plans for what they said would be a peaceful protest at the Vietnamese Embassy—but which officials claimed was intended to whip up violence and chaos—started singing the praises of Prime Minister Hun Sen and renounced their ties to the KNLF. All were handed between five- and nine-year prison sentences in December.
Contacted after the questioning, Mr. Serey refuted Mr. Sawakkhet’s claims and said he was likely backtracking in order to avoid falling into the prime minister’s bad books.
He “seems to…follow Hun Sen’s words for their safety or they will be arrested like Thuy Vy,” Mr. Serey said in an email.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)
sony@cambodiadaily.com*
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