A man believed to be the ringleader was arrested on Tuesday in connection with what is being treated as terrorism, after AK-47 assault rifles and other weapons were seized in Phnom Penh and provinces across the Kingdom, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Wednesday.
Eight suspects were arrested after 25 AK-47s were discovered in the capital’s Preak Pnov district with a further three found in Kampot and Pursat provinces. Their arrests for the possession of firearms have been made since September 26.
On Tuesday, National Police arrested a 42-year-old suspect in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district. Thorng Dy, or Bun Bra Ser, is believed to be the group’s ringleader.
A National Police report said Dy is a member of the outlawed Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF).
Police seized an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, four hand grenades, a camera, a computer, 1kg of white powder, 1kg of yellow powder, fireworks which could be made into a bomb, three binoculars and two passports in its raid.
Sopheak rejected claims the armed group was aiming to overthrow the Cambodian government, and referred to the nine as “bandits”.
“[The group] does not have the kind of forces capable of toppling the government. They are just bandits. But if it becomes stronger, it might join an opposition party [to enhance] its reputation and position . . . But we are treating it as terrorism,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana said the prosecutor has charged the nine and sent them before an investigating judge for processing.
He said on Tuesday that the court had decided to charge the suspects with “organising an armed group, possessing illegal weapons and explosives, and of being part of an illegal armed group”, based on Articles 485, 486 and 488 of the Criminal Code. They have detained in prison since Monday.
The court’s deputy administration chief Sous Vichyea Randy declined to provide additional comments but merely confirmed that the court is proceeding with the case.
Based on National Police documents, Dy is a member of the Tiger Head Movement, an armed group Head Movement, an armed group said to hide stockpiles of weapons in order to depose the government.
The Tiger Head Movement, also known as the Khmer National Unity Front, was linked to two alleged bombing attempts – one in front of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in 2007, and another at the Defence Ministry in 2009.
A man named Som Ek was identified as the group’s leader and sentenced to 28 years in prison for the failed bombings.
Three other alleged members got shorter sentences. All have maintained their innocence.
Political fugitive Sam Serey, who founded the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) dissident group based in Denmark, denied any connection with the nine arrested or the Tiger Head Movement.
Serey, who is wanted by the Cambodian government for allegedly operating a “terrorist” group, sought to distance himself from such claims.
“It is not true,” he told The Post on Wednesday. “They are not members of KNLF. I have never known them. This is a plan created by the police and Hun Sen’s regime to put the blame on me and the KNLF and damage my reputation."
“It is serious for me as they keep abusing me relentlessly and I have not done anything wrong."
“I would like to appeal to the international community and the UN to find a solution for Cambodia’s political crisis because they have freed some political prisoners who are members of the KNLF, but I have not had my charges dropped."
“It is unfair because I am also a Cambodian, but my political rights have been denied,” he claimed.
Eight men were named as being charged in the case, Sieng Vann Doeun, Vorn Leng, Vorn Savann, Thorn Samet, Nob Vun, San Sao Ry and Pen Bunthoeun, and a woman, Heng Hai.