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Court questions Tiger Head suspects

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Som Ek (right), accused of masterminding a failed bomb plot, is escorted from Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.

FIVE men suspected of involvement in bomb plots allegedly orchestrated by a mysterious terrorist group were questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say the men are members of the Khmer National Unity Front (KNUF), also known as the Tiger Liberation Movement or the Tiger Head Movement, a group accused of attempting unsuccessfully to bomb the Cambodia-Vietnamese Friendship Monument in July 2007, along with the Defence Ministry and state television station TV3 in January of this year.

Som Ek, accused of masterminding the operations, called the accusations against him “very unjust”, saying that the KNUF was not involved in violence or terrorism.

“I acknowledge that we created the Khmer National Unity Front in late 2005 as a political organisation which aimed mainly to secure rights, liberty, power and dignity for the people, and to train them to find a righteous leader to free them from communism,” Som Ek said, voicing his displeasure with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The KNUF, he added, was meant to be registered as a political party, not a terrorist group.

Deputy court prosecutor Hing Bunchea accused Som Ek of lying, saying he aimed to recruit people from across the country to plant bombs in an attempt to topple the government. Hing Bunchea said one man previously arrested in the case, former Mondulkiri provincial police chief Reach Samnang, had been released, and that five others – Som Ek, Loeuk Bunhean, Phy Savoeung, Pov Sovannara and Chea Kimyan – were being charged with delivering, placing, discharging or detonating an explosive or lethal device in a public place, and recruiting and training terrorists. If convicted, they face up to 30 years in prison.

Loeuk Bunhean, a former soldier and adviser at the Ministry of Defence, cried out in the courtroom that he was innocent and had no connection with Som Ek. “I would let myself receive a life sentence if the court found any evidence that I was connected with Som Ek,” he said. Phy Soveoung, another former soldier, also said he was not connected to Som Ek or the KNUF.

Municipal Court Judge Chhay Kong said the court would resume its hearing with the five men on December 3, though he did not say when a verdict would be handed down. Pov Sovannara and Chea Kimyan did not speak Wednesday, but are expected to speak at the December hearing.

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