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Alleged invasion plotters sentenced

Sebastian Strangio

Ny Kosal and Tul Mann (foreground), sit outside the Pursat Provincial Court on Tuesday after being acquitted of involvement in a plot to raise an army to attack Thailand and Vietnam.

T wo accused conspirators in the so-called Angkor Empire Movement, an alleged plot to launch armed attacks on Thailand and Vietnam from Cambodian soil, were convicted and sentenced to prison on Tuesday by the Pursat Provincial Court.

In a short hearing, presiding judge Pol Yorn found Thab The and Chan Dara, also known as Veasna, guilty of the illegal use of armed force, sentencing them to six and five years in jail, respectively, while two other alleged plotters, Ny Kosal and Tul Mann, were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The verdicts arrived amidst accusations of secrecy and political meddling in the trial process, after Prime Minister Hun Sen remarked last month that the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) should be investigated for links to the plotters, according to information supplied by SRP defectors.

“I think there is political involvement with this trial,” said Ouk Vandeth, Chan Dara’s defence counsel. “The court felt threatened so they accused my client of creating a movement against the government. He’s not involved with this movement.”

Thab The’s son Chan Sothea said that he was “very disappointed with the court’s verdict” but that his father “was not involved with any armed forces or plots against the government.”

Am Sam Ath, a human rights monitor for local rights group Licadho, said that the independence of the court’s verdict was suspect.

“The court did not have enough evidence to find Chan Dara and Thab The guilty of the charges,” he said. “With [the case's] links to the ruling party, the suspect always receives an unfair trial and pressure was clearly placed on the court by powerful officials.”

The case looks likely to resume after the July 27 polls, with Thab The and Chan Dara both planning to appeal and prosecutors promising further investigation into a figure known as Chan Muthara, said to be the ringleader of the shadowy movement and whose true identity and whereabouts remain unknown.

Thab The’s wife Chan Ream rejected the verdicts and said her husband would fight his case to the end.

“He is not guilty. He has no weapons, no military clothes and he has participated in no activities against the government,” she said. “The ruling party wants to make problems for my husband… I will appeal this verdict.”

San Soudalen, a Licadho lawyer representing Ny Kosal and Tul Mann, applauded the decision to acquit them, claiming that they were unaware of any illegal activities.

“I am happy today because my two clients were released. I think it has been a fair trial for my clients because they had no connections to the movement,” she said after the hearing.

The original trial of the four alleged plotters was suspended in April after judges decided more investigation was necessary.

Investigation recommenced in June following statements from SRP defector Lek Bunnhean, who implicated the opposition party in a number of anti-government plots, including the rocket attack on the prime minister in 1998 and the Angkor Empire Movement.

SRP president Sam Rainsy called the accusations “unbelievable,” claiming the government was trying to stem his party’s popularity in the run-up to this month’s national election.

The four suspects were arrested in May 2007 on suspicion of involvement with the Angkor Empire Movement which, authorities allege, planned to raise an army of 400 to seize the province of Surin from Thailand, as well as Kampuchea Krom and the old kingdom of Champa, both now in Vietnam. Authorities said no weapons were recovered from the conspirators.

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