Two more of the five accused secessionists from Kratie province’s Pro Ma village turned themselves in on Friday, Ministry of Interior officials said, just days after Hun Sen declared that he would drop charges against them if they testified against the plot’s masterminds.
Warrants for the five were issued after hundreds of police and military police officers evicted some 200 families from Pro Ma village, shooting a 14-year-old girl dead in the process – an operation the government described as an attempt to put down a “secessionist plot” allegedly led by Bun Ratha.
Ratha and others have repeatedly denied any such plot, saying they were just applying for land titles, and the government has since claimed that Ratha and the others were taking orders from someone else.
General Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that the two latest villagers – whom he refused to identify for safety reasons – had admitted that they had received orders from others.
“We let them go back to their [homes] after they confessed,” he said. “They will testify in court.”
One alleged accomplice turned himself in on June 26, and the only two to remain on the run are Bun Ratha and his father, Bun Chhorn.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, called the government’s decision to grant immunity in exchange for testimony a ploy to silence an opposition radio broadcaster that it accuses of masterminding the alleged plot.
“Forcing these confessions by taking the villagers to be witnesses is how the pressure is applied on Mam Samnangdo, president of FM 105 radio,” whom the government accuses of leading the alleged secessionist group Democratic Association, he said.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for human rights group Licadho, said that he wondered what the villagers were confessing to if they were actually innocent, and that the matter was best left to the courts.
Twenty-five-year-old Bun Sithet, the younger brother of Bun Ratha, said that accused secessionist Khat Saroeun told him that he had implicated Ratha in his confession. Nevertheless, Ratha and his father would not confess to a crime they denied committing.
“My brother will come back to the village if the prime minister says he is not guilty,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]