CAMBODIAN intelligence has failed to prove that any of the nine suspected Khmer Rouge
rebels arrested in a December sweep in the capital had any links to the outlaw group.
However, sure that all of them were guilty of something, a Phnom Penh court August
6 found six were involved in organized crime, one had possessed illegal weapons,
and another had spread disinformation.
Of those guilty of organized crime, Ros Choka, Saing Sim and Huch Him were all sentenced
to 12 months jail, starting from the time they were arrested, and Tim Chantha, Prak
Sarim and Prum Soth were effectively sentenced to time already served (eight months).
They will be released early next week.
Van Vunthoeun, convicted of possessing illegal weapons, and Sean Sophearak (disinformation),
were both sentenced to the eight months already served.
The ninth accused and only woman, Lim Pao, had her charges dropped while she was
in jail awaiting trial and had been released, prompting fellow accused Sarim to tell
the Post before the trial: "Corruption! So much corruption! If I had money I'd
leave. I have no money, so I'm Khmer Rouge. That woman, she paid $2,000."
Pao, who lives in Phnom Penh, couldn't be contacted for comment - however, in the
end, none of the eight were seen by the court as being Khmer Rouge.
"The court couldn't prove it," said one independent investigator, and the
defending lawyers were upset because they believed the court had insufficient evidence
to find their clients guilty of anything at all. "We'll be appealing,"
said one defender, though the sentences were light enough that all eight will be
out of jail by December.
The arrests seemed to have occurred in three separate incidents.
In the first, plainclothed anti-terrorist police - a group that has been in existence
since the Vietnamese occupation in 1979 and which reputedly has a wide circle of
informants - arrested Tim Chantha, Prum Soth and Huch Him last December. They found
in Soth's house a list titled the "Organizational Chart of Battalion No. 5,
Div No. 3". Soth was named as the overall commander, and Chantha and Him signed
as having completed the list in April 1995. It contained 22 names, all either company
or platoon commanders.
Independent investigations show the chart may have been that of a movement called
the Great Solidarity Party, though links with this group and the Khmer Rouge could
not be established. One reason put up in defence was that it was a group that intended
defending the King as a sort of a civilian guard.
Nevertheless, police officers in December were confident that one of the trio was
in charge of all KR agents in the capital and was responsible for liaison with rebel
commanders in other provinces.
The prosecutor at this week's court trial said that the court did not care about
political parties "because people have the right to form or join a party, or
assemble or associate with whom they want."
However, he said the courts were worried about the formation of armed groups - and
the existence of platoon and company commander did suggest force, said one observer.
But nowhere on the document were the words Khmer Rouge, and nor was there any proof
linking the chart - which was complete with photographs and what appeared to be lines
of communication - to the rebels. Nor where there any witnesses.
Though the accused were originally arrested under the KR outlaw bill, the charges
were changed to that of organized crime.
Him and Soth were the only accused represented by a private lawyer.
The Cambodian Defenders Project had four clients at court, while Legal Aid of Cambodia
The second "incident" involved the absent Pao and Sophearak.
Pao was the wife of Young Samoeun, who was arrested in 1982 with the then-secretary
general of the CPP Pen Sovann, and the pair were sent to Vietnam for re-education.
When Samoeun returned he was offered a "high position" within the party
by Hun Sen, but he refused, and fled to Site 2 camp on the Thai border.
After the Peace Accords, Sam-oeun returned to Phnom Penh as vice president of the
Khmer Neutral Party. When that party won no seats Samoeun "simply disappeared,"
said one observer.
Police intelligence thought he might have defected to the Khmer Rouge; other unconfirmed
sightings had him eating noodles in Bangkok, and one late last year had him in Poipet
- and that is where his wife Pao set off to find him.
There she met Sophearak, a former journalist with Voice of Khmer Youth and editor
of New Movement, whom she asked for help to find her missing husband.
Unsuccessful, they both came back to Phnom Penh, to be arrested several days later
in the "Khmer Rouge round-up."
Poa, said to be in a financially comfortable position, didn't face trial. Sophearak
was accused as having had an anti-CPP leaflet in his possession, which said in part:
"... journalists and politicians have been arrested continually. No more Funcinpec.
No more BLDP. No more Constitution. Youn. Youn. Youn... No more fighting."
Though jailed for disinform-ation, Sophearak, his defender, and at least one independent
observer maintained that the leaflet was planted on him after having been found on
It is unclear how the other grouping of four men - Sim, Sarim, Choka and Vunthoeun
- figured in the "web", if at all.
One version has Choka, Sarim and Vuntheoun being fingered to the anti-terrorist squad
by neighbors who said they had been acting brashly, and that arresting police found
an illegal grenade in Vunthoeun's house.
Sim said he was given the same leaflet as Sophearak by an undercover policeman named
Vy. He said Vy returned the next day and took him for a ride to a house, which was
minutes later surrounded by police who arrested Sim.
Sophearak - who pleaded for a Post reporter to contact Amnesty International as quickly
as possible - and Sarim, the only two who spoke English, both maintained they knew
none of their fellow accused.
Though convinced that the evidence was flimsy at best, or non-existant at worst,
the NGO defenders interviewed by the Post seemed happy that the court seemed to realize
that charges brought under the Khmer Rouge law against the men would have been even
more difficult to prove.
Under that law, the eight would be looking to tidy up their cells in T3 for possibly
the rest of their lives.