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King calls for release of accused rioters

King calls for release of accused rioters

KING Norodom Sihanouk issued a plea to the government on February 27 to release students

and others arrested and imprisoned for their alleged involvement in the riots of

January 29. The Thai Embassy was looted and burned by a mob, as were a dozen Thai-owned

businesses.

The King's letter, which was faxed to news organizations, stated that the students

and "small, poor people" were incapable of planning the night's destruction.

"I don't believe that the student named Ken Sara, children and grandchildren,

and other students arrested and detained were the cruel people who destroyed the

property of the Thai nationals," he wrote.

"Among the people arrested and detained are the small and poor, whom I don't

believe are capable of preparing an operation to burn Thai properties to the ground."

The King said he had received many requests begging the government to find justice.

MoI spokesman General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the letter, but said the

government was building its case against several of the accused. Sopheak said a committee

to investigate the riots had already submitted documents to the court as evidence.

Sixty-two detainees have appeared at the Municipal Court to answer charges of property

damage, theft, robbery and, in the case of two student leaders, incitement.

But the Student Movement for Democracy claims that Ken Sara, one of its members,

was arrested on February 6 for political reasons rather than involvement in the riots.

Sara has been charged with violence and inciting racism.

Another student, Thorn Veasna, was charged with incitement in both Phnom Penh and

Kampong Cham. Human rights groups said they had not received an explanation of the

charges from the government.

Two media figures were released after pressure from citizens and human rights groups.

Mam Sonando, the director of independent broadcaster Beehive Radio, and En Chan Sivatha,

editor of Rasmei Angkor newspaper, were freed at the end of January.

But the others are being held at the city's Prey Sar prison where human rights workers

say they are being kept under questionable conditions. Prison monitors at Licadho

were refused access to several prisoners, and family members have complained they

are unable to visit the prisoners unless they pay bribes.

But releasing the detainees now would be tricky for the government, since it has

publicly declared the guilt of those arrested. It has also repeatedly agreed to Thai

demands to bring those responsible to justice.

Trial dates have not yet been set for any of the accused.

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