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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Second terrorism trial under way

Second terrorism trial under way

ONE man claimed he was a government agent, another alleged an amnesty deal had been

ignored, others said they were duped into fighting and some charged police brutality

during witness testimony in the trial of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters underway

in Phnom Penh.

Judge Sek Sethamony raced through the testimony of 27 men accused of belonging to

the outlawed organization in the trial which began October 18 at the Supreme Court.

Sok Sam Ouen of the Cambodian Defenders Project, which represents the majority of

the suspects, said government procedures had hampered the defense.

"It was very hard to have access to all the suspects and prepare the case,"

he said. "It was [also] very hard to convince anyone to be a witness for the

CFF. People are afraid."

"Many of the procedural violations that marred the first trial were not corrected

in the second," said a representative of Human Rights Watch. "Defendants

were subjected to prolonged illegal detention, restricted access to lawyers and lack

of proper medical care".

Nine suspects suffer from beriberi, a wasting disease caused by a lack of vitamin

B, common in Phnom Penh's prisons. Many were unable to stand in the witness box,

but the court showed little sympathy.

"I've got a disease. I'm numb from my foot to the top of my head," one

suspect told the court. The incredulous judge replied that just because he was in

prison it didn't mean he shouldn't exercise.

Most of the defendants said they had been lured to Phnom Penh days before the attack

on the promise of construction work. Once there, a gun was placed in their hands

and they were told to join with the "Americans to fight the yuon (Vietnamese)".

Defendant after defendant claimed that they had been forced at gunpoint to participate

in the fighting and had "run away", "only shot into the trees",

or fought in fear of their lives with a gun at their back. Their claims were treated

skeptically by both judge and prosecutor, as were claims of forced confessions.

"I only confessed because the military police beat me and burnt me with cigarettes,"

said one defendant.

A constant trial attendant was Tith Sovanna, former "presidential advisor"

to CFF President Chhun Yasith. Sovanna's son, Doung Sopheap, told the court October

25 he had been promised immunity from prosecution after giving evidence to the government.

Sovanna, who interjected several times to correct her son's testimony, told the Post

she had written to Prime Minister Hun Sen in February this year offering information

in exchange for an amnesty.

"Om Yentieng and Mol Roeub received me at the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand

and said that Samdech was very happy to receive us and we need not worry about our

safety," she said.

But when she refused to allow her son to testify at the first CFF trial she said

the government reneged on the deal and arrested him.

She said she had been home with her son during the November 24 attack because Yasith

had told them that the attack was planned for December.

"Yasith is a liar," said the embittered former advisor. "He said during

the meeting ten days before the attack that American forces would join us."

Defendant Tep Simoly told the court he was gathering intelligence for the Ministry

of Defense (MoD) and reported to Hour Sareth, MoD's deputy commander of intelligence.

Sareth denied the claim in a written statement.

Simoly's lawyer, Puth Theavy, told the court that Sereth was unreliable because of

his involvement as the accuser of Sam Rainsy Party members after the 1998 rocket

attacks.

Verdicts are expected November 5.

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