The self-described leader of a group that aimed to overthrow Cambodia’s leadership claimed yesterday a middleman had offered him US$20 million – allegedly from the Taiwanese government – to form the “army” movement.
Chea Sarann, leader of the so-called “Sovannaphumi Army”, went on trial yesterday with his five alleged accomplices after being arrested and charged in April with forming an illegal armed force.
The 49-year-old has admitted his guilt, along with Liv Sok Sovann, 49, Chum Vichey, a miner, and Phlot Vy, a 62-year-old teacher of traditional medicine.
Two more men – farmers Poth Porn, 46, and Yorm Hev, 41 – have denied the charge, although Poth Porn said yesterday that in March, he had unwittingly brought Chum Vichey to look for a cache of buried weapons in his village in Banteay Meanchey province.
During explosive testimony in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Chea Sarann, who is also thought to be a former member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, claimed the army had been established in early 2006 to “overthrow and change” the Kingdom’s government.
In a bizarre turn of events, he added: “The main purpose of the Sovannaphumi Army Movement was to earn US$20 million in aid from the Taiwanese government.”
A man called Thab The, reportedly a former SRP member, had told him the Taiwanese government would give him the money via its embassy in Thailand in exchange for establishing the movement, Chea Sarann said.
Thab The had since disappeared, Chea Sarann said.
Representatives at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Thailand said yesterday they were unaware of the trial.
Cambodia does not have a corres-ponding office, but Chinese embassy spokesman Yang Tianyue said he would look into the case.
Presiding Judge Duch Kimsorn said that “establishing any armed movement without authorisation from the Royal Government of Cambodia is an illegal act and is absolutely prohibited.”
Deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth asked for the suspects to be “strongly punished”.
The Sam Rainsy Party yesterday called for justice to take its course but emphasised that the party “had not been involved in establishing this armed force”.
“The SRP is the party that uses nonviolence and only ideas and pen points for advocacy to defend the nation,” Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said.
A verdict in the trial is due on October 27.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA AND DON WEINLAND