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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge rebels in capital, but recent arrests

Khmer Rouge rebels in capital, but recent arrests

Aformer Ministry of National Defense worker and a former journalist are among nine suspected Khmer Rouge secret agents arrested in Phnom Penh this month.

They include the alleged commander of KR activities in Phnom Penh, according to police sources. One grenade and about 15 pages of hand-written papers were confiscated by police from the man's home, according to his neighbors.

Also arrested was his room-mate, a former Kompong Thom soldier, whose wife has strongly denied that her husband has any link to the KR.

"I hope and I expect that my husband will be released because he is not guilty," said Meas Vida this week.

Another of those arrested is a former journalist, well-known in some Phnom Penh circles as something of a con-man.

Meanwhile, police investigations are continuing into KR agents in Phnom Penh following the explosion of two home-made bombs near a marketplace on Dec 23.

A senior police officer said the KR were suspected of being behind the bombings, which came just over a week after the nine arrests.

Two moto-taxi drivers and a woman passenger were injured when two home-made TNT devices were detonated 15 minutes apart north of Damkor market shortly before 6am. At least one was apparently thrown from a passing motorcycle, according to a witness.

The KR has long been suspected of having a presence in the Capital - and Phnom Penh diplomats this week confirmed they had intelligence information which supported such suspicions - but this month's arrests of alleged members were the first in recent years.

Government and police officials say a total of five grenades and about 200 anti-government leaflets, reportedly inciting government soldiers to give up their fight against the KR, were seized from the suspects.

But it is unclear how many of the suspects had grenades or leaflets in their possession.

Seven of the people were arrested on Dec 12 and the last two - the alleged commander and his room-mate - on Dec 14. They were taken to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Dec 18, and ordered detained in prison pending further investigation.

The suspects were named as: Ros Choka, Van Bun Thoeun, Tim Chantha, Prum Sart, Saing Sin, Hoch Hen, Seang Sophearak, Prak Sarim and Lim Peou (the only woman among them).

Ros Choka, aged about 37, is the alleged KR commander in Phnom Penh. Van Bun Thoeun, 32, is his room-mate and the husband of Meas Vida, who maintains he was arrested only because he lived with Choka.

Seang Sophearak (who has also used the name Reach Chou Dy Kunakar and whose real name is believed to be Seang Dy) is a former writer for the Voice of Khmer Youth newspaper and was later publisher of the New Movement paper. He has been accused of a variety of dubious behavior in the past, including involvement in the theft of a computer from one newspaper and in a failed business venture, according to some in the industry.

Another police officer, who asked not to be named, said Choka was believed to be in charge of all KR agents in the Capital and was responsible for liaison with rebel commanders in other provinces.

The officer alleged that Choka had confessed his KR work during interrogation and had also told police he was a member of Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party (KNP).

KNP Secretary-General Khieu Rada said the party was checking through its list of members, more than 30,000 of which had not yet been entered into its computer, for Choka's name. He could not confirm Choka was a member, but "we are not denying it."

The party would expel anyone connected with violent groups, Rada said. "We will not excuse anyone who abuses the law. We respect the law and are non-violent."

Police raided the house of Choka and Van Bun Thoeun, in Daun Penh district near the Railway station, on Dec 14.

"They surrounded the house and came in," Bun Thoeun's wife, Meas Vida said. "They didn't say anything. They just said [to Choka] 'We want to arrest you, you have to come to the police station.'

"Then they said they had to arrest all the men living here, and took away my husband too."

Vida said that the police searched the house and found a grenade among Choka's possessions and a small bundle of pieces of paper underneath his sleeping mat. She said there were about 15 pages of hand-writing but she did not see what they said.

Vida said she did not know why Choka had a grenade, but he had been a soldier working at the National Defense Ministry until soon after the 1993 national election, when he lost his job.

"He did nothing with the grenade. He just kept it. He likes it because he is a former soldier, I guess.

"I cannot confirm that he is involved with the Khmer Rouge because I don't know what is in his heart. But my husband is not, I can guarantee you."

She said her husband was a former soldier who had left his Kompong Thom army unit to come to Phnom Penh after marrying her two years ago. They did not know Choka but moved into his house with him because he was her late grandmother's godson.

Her husband was now employed on a Japanese-funded water supply construction program, while Choka did not work at all.

Choka spent most of his time at home, appeared to have no money and was largely fed by neighbors who pitied him, she said.

His house, a one-bedroom wooden place little more than a hut, includes two Buddhist shrines which Vida said Choka had set up. On religious holidays he would put on the white clothes of a layperson and pray.

She said Choka had talked of his estranged wife, who he was divorcing, but not of any other family. He was regularly visited by people, apparently from out of town, and would sit drinking with them.

Neighbors described Choka as a quiet man, nicknamed "the Monks' servant" because of his habit of begging for food from others. They said he never discussed politics.

A legal defender from a Cambodian NGO is understood to have applied for court approval to represent Vida's husband, Bun Thoeun, but has yet to receive permission.

Vida, who has a two-week-old and as-yet-unnamed baby, said she had been able to see her husband at a police station once since his arrest.

"He just told me he had told the police about his background, and that he was not in the Khmer Rouge, but maybe they don't believe him."

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