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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt defends treatment of 'balloon six'

Govt defends treatment of 'balloon six'

T HE government is offering no apologies to the "balloon six", who won their

freedom this week after six weeks in T3 prison on charges of being

anti-government agitators.

Both Information Minister Ieng Mouly and

Interior Minister You Hockry defended the six men's arrest and

imprisonment.

Mouly suggested the six could have been paid by the Khmer

Rouge, while Hockry said at least one of them had been involved in

demonstrations before.

The six men - including a one-legged balloon

seller, a former Funcinpec youth leader and the secretary general of the Khmer

Krom Association - were arrested Aug 5 during the visit of US Secretary of State

Warren Christopher.

Involved with the release of balloons with political

leaflets tied to them, they were accused of inciting people to "commit crimes or

hate the Royal government."

They were released Sept 18, after an appeal

for their freedom from King Norodom Sihanouk, and all charges

dropped.

Looking clean and well-dressed, the six were met by a crowd of

waiting journalists as they walked out the prison gates. They had little to say,

heading straight for moto-taxis to go home.

"I did what my will told me

to do and I violated nothing," said Sith Kosaing Sin, the former Funcinpec youth

leader who planned the balloon protest.

Also arrested was Son Yin of the

Khmer Krom Association and four others - including a one-legged man and his son

- who maintained they were just balloon sellers.

Their defender, Oum

Samuel of Charto, said their unconditional release came after the Phnom Penh

Municipal Court decided there was insufficient evidence to try them. It also

followed a petition to the co-Prime Ministers from the King.

The arrest

of the six attracted strong condemnation from human rights watchdogs around the

world as a breach of their right to freedom of expression.

But Minister

of Information Ieng Mouly, a public opponent of jailing people for expressing

opinions, said after their release that the police had been right to arrest

them.

"This incident was on a very special occasion [Christopher's

visit]. If they did this during any other day, there may have been no need to

arrest them."

Mouly said it had been possible the six would do "something

more" than just release balloons, and had to kept away from

Christopher.

Asked why they were detained for six weeks, when

Christopher's visit lasted less than two days, he said: "I don't know. But I

understand the reason why they were investigated to find their sources of

money.

"I heard [they got paid] $2000 or something like that. Who has

money like that? The suspicion is that there may be a connection with the Khmer

Rouge."

Minister of Interior You Hockry said he knew nothing about any KR

involvement.

But he did not believe the men's arrest and detention was a

mistake, saying: "I think there may be something more to it than

that.

"One of them was involved in demonstrations before, last year I

think."

According to independent translations, the first of two leaflets

tied to the balloons urged Christopher to press the Cambodian government to

promote democracy, human and judicial independence.

The second supported

the King, expressed concern that Cambodia was in "extreme deterioration" and

concluded by saying that "we...do not follow the incitement of the Khmer Rouge."

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