Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Interior Ministry releases dossier of evidence outlining alleged KNLF bombing 'plot'

Interior Ministry releases dossier of evidence outlining alleged KNLF bombing 'plot'

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Accused terrorist Sam Serey poses in a military uniform with a tigers' head emblem in front of an altered Cambodian flag. The photo was included in a government dossier of evidence that Serey planned to bomb Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Supplied

Interior Ministry releases dossier of evidence outlining alleged KNLF bombing 'plot'

The Ministry of Interior released a 14-page dossier of purported evidence against self-exiled political dissident Sam Serey on Wednesday, and government mouthpiece Fresh News leaked audio recordings of alleged associates seeking to buttress Prime Minister Hun Sen’s accusation that Serey was plotting a Khmer New Year terrorist attack.

The dossier includes allegations that Serey is raising an army in Norway, that he had a “secret” meeting with an alleged American CIA agent and that he was involved in the botched 2007 bombing of Phnom Penh’s Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument.

Serey, who lives in Denmark, is the head of the Khmer National Liberation Front, a dissident group that advocates for regime change in Cambodia.

The government has branded the group a “terrorist” organisation, though it has long professed a commitment to nonviolence, and its members – more than 20 of whom have been arrested over the years – have never been found in possession of weapons.

On Tuesday morning, Hun Sen claimed in a speech that he had foiled a plot by KNLF to bomb the capital’s Wat Phnom and the tourist hub of Siem Reap on April 12, an accusation Serey denied.

Late on Tuesday night, pro-government media outlet Fresh News released an audio recording of a woman speaking to two men about the alleged plot.

In the first call, recorded on April 7, a woman says that a man called “Yeab” – Serey’s birth name – ordered her to provide food and accommodation to two men in Phnom Penh, and told her to meet with a monk called Teavy, the head of a planned operation.

In a second phone call, dated April 9, the woman complains that Yeab wanted her to go all the way to Thailand’s Rong Kluea market to pick up bombs.

“First he said he will bring it here, and then he said I need to get it myself,” she says.

The man she is speaking to tells her she should not go, then asks why Yeab had asked her to travel to Thailand.

“He told me to meet those [people], to take the bombs, at Rong Kluea market,” she replies.

“Where are you going to set it up?” the man asks.

“At Wat Phnom, during the Khmer New Year, when the situation can’t be controlled,” she answers.

None of the speakers in the recordings call the others by name, and the KNLF is never mentioned. Fresh News, however, citing police, identifies the woman as an alleged KNLF member named Huy Thou, and the man in the second call as an alleged KNLF member named Sim Vuthy. The monk referred to in the first call, Teavy, is identified as Yen Rotanaksotheavy. The man in the first call is not identified.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Wednesday that all involved are being “monitored”.

“In general, we already control it, we already have all their identities, we know their activities,” Sopheak said.

Sopheak added that the government would “ensure 100 percent” that there are no incidents during Khmer New Year.

In an interview, Rotanaksotheavy, the monk mentioned in the recording, denied having any relationship with Serey or being a KNLF member, calling the accusation “politically motivated” because of his past criticisms of the government.

He claimed 2014 photos of him with Serey published by Fresh News were misleading, saying migrant workers had invited him to Thailand for a blessing ceremony that Serey had happened to attend.

Rotanaksotheavy went on to call the accusation “an insult to Buddhism and monks in Cambodia”.

Serey, meanwhile, said the recording was a “plot of Hun Sen in order to fabricate the evidence to make me guilty”.

He claimed it was set up by the Ministry of Interior with Thou’s cooperation.

“You can see in the recording there is no voice of mine . . . where is my voice if I ordered her?” he wrote in a message.

He continued to deny ever ordering violence.

“I love peace. I want not only Cambodia to get peace but the world also,” he wrote.

Serey said while he has no personal relationship with Thou or Rotanaksotheavy, they were both “simple supporters” of the KNLF.

Sopheak also sent a dossier of information to The Post detailing more alleged evidence against Serey.

The dossier – which contains no primary documents not already publicly available – accuses self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy of ordering Serey to raise an army, which it claimed Serey is doing in Norway.

The dossier also accused the former Danish ambassador of pledging to recognise Serey’s little-known Cambodian government-in-exile, and claimed Serey was a member of the Khmer National Unity Front, which attempted to bomb a monument over 10 years ago.

Neither the Norwegian nor Danish embassies, both based in Bangkok, immediately responded to requests for comment.

The dossier also claims Serey had a “secret” meeting with an American “CIA agent”, identified from photographs as the filmmaker Bradley Cox, who made a documentary about the assassination of a prominent Cambodian union leader called Who Killed Chea Vichea?

Far from secret, the meeting was publicised by the KNLF, which posted photos of the meeting on its website in 2014. Neither Cox nor the US Embassy immediately responded to requests for comment.

For his part, Rainsy denied ever having met Sam Serey, or having any contact with the KNLF, despite the existence of pictures apparently showing the two at a group dinner. When shown the photos, Rainsy dismissed it as a “fake, doctored photo”.

“Hun Sen desperately needs to invent any pretext to further discard the CNRP, Kem Sokha and me from the election process. I don’t need – and will never advocate – violence to bring about a democratic change in Cambodia,” Rainsy said in an email, referring to last year’s forced dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and the arrest of its president, Kem Sokha, on widely decried charges of “treason”.

Numerous observers have characterised the dissolution as an attempt to remove the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s only viable competition from this year’s national elections.

Serey, however, said he did meet with Rainsy, but the CNRP ultimately “rejected” the idea of cooperating with the KNLF.

Serey said he also knew Som Ek, the leader of the KNUF, which was accused of attempting to bomb the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument, the Ministry of Defence and a TV station.

The group was branded the “Tiger’s Head Movement” by the government, but Ek rejected the name and said he was only trying to gather supporters to register the KNUF as a political party. He was sentenced to 46 years in prison after two trials, based on “notes and evidence”, although little concrete evidence was offered at either trial.

Serey echoed Ek’s assertion that the radical side of the movement was fabricated by the government, and denied any involvement with the group on Wednesday.

“KNLF is different policy and separated. There is no connection between KNLF and Khmer National Unity Front,” he said in a message.

Photos of Serey posing in army fatigues and holding guns, some of which first circulated years ago, were also published in the dossier. Initially, he said they were taken while visiting friends in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. When asked why the uniforms have patches with three tigers’ heads – believed to be the symbol of KNUF – he said “I had no idea at the time,” and insisted again that he had merely been visiting friends.

Mao Phalla, spokesman for RCAF, insisted that no such emblem has ever been used in a military uniform.

Read more: A terrorist group by any other name

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