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PM has deal for ‘secessionists’

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A soldier speaks to villagers near the site of a violent eviction in Kratie province last month. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

An alleged accomplice of “secessionist” leader Bun Ratha has confessed and been granted immunity as a witness, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday, a deal he left on the table for any of the four remaining fugitives who are willing to co-operate, including Ratha.

Warrants for the five were issued after a forced eviction in Kampong Damrei commune’s Pro Ma village, in which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by government forces.

The government has described the Kratie operation – in which roughly 1,000 police and military police evicted some 200 families – as an attempt to quell a “secessionist plot” purportedly led by Ratha.

Ratha and other villagers have repeatedly denied any such plot, saying they were simply applying for land titles.

“I will be responsible for the four who come out to confess,” Hun Sen said. “You will be free of guilt if you come out and admit the guilt. We can withdraw the arrest warrants and turn you into witnesses, because you were also deceived by others.”

In his speech, Hun Sen warned that the court will sentence Bun Ratha in absentia if he doesn’t resurface on his own.

“I appealed to [the four] to come out, whether they are hiding in the forest, at home, at an embassy or with NGOs,” he said.

Hun Sen also told NGOs that villagers should address their grievances through the courts rather than NGOs, and that the government wouldn’t expel residents from their villages.

However, those expelled from Pro Ma, he said, were rightfully evicted, and would not be given back their land.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said the government’s claim of a secessionist plot was unfounded.

“If the prime minister has evidence, then he should let that do the talking rather than continuing his ranting and raving against NGOs and anyone else who raises well-founded questions about what he has to say,” he said.

Bun Sithet, 25, Bun Ratha’s younger brother, also denied the plot.

“The residents just depended on my brother, who has knowledge in law, to write the complaints for them,” he said.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com

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