Five men accused of trying to blow up a Koh Kong ferry on behalf of the Cambodian
Freedom Fighters (CFF) have been sentenced to 10 years in jail, while another group
of CFF suspects walked free after being tried on separate charges in Phnom Penh.
A makeshift bomb tore this hole in the jetty dock at Andaung Teuk, Koh Kong province, in April, slightly injuring one man sleeping nearby and causing several residents to later shift their houses for fear of further attacks.
Strangely, one of the five suspects acquitted in absentia of separate terrorism charges
in the capital is believed to be the same man who was convicted in Koh Kong.
Chhen Pov, was found guilty in Koh Kong on September 23 but acquitted in Phnom Penh
on October 6.
Also on the Phnom Penh acquittal list was Suy Seng, a former Funcinpec naval commander
who fled to Thailand after the 1997 coup, has been previously linked to the CFF and
is now recruiting forces from Koh Kong, say military police.
Kang So Khom, police chief of Botum Sakor district, said authorities had an informant
within the Suy Seng group in Thailand who told them 20 members had recently come
to Koh Kong to recruit another 40 Cambodians from the isolated pockets of demobilized
Khmer Rouge soldiers in the area.
Khom said operatives of Suy Seng were behind the attempted bombing of the Andaung
Teuk ferry in April, an attack of which Mul Nop, Sot Chhang, Ron Voen, Pich Sun and
Chhen Pov were convicted in a Koh Kong courtroom last month.
He says their source warned them of a possible attack on August 23, but it did not
materialize because of a strong security presence in the district.
A high-ranking military police official who spoke on a condition of anonymity said
he had heard of Suy Seng and seen his photograph.
"He's around 40 to 50 years old," said the police official. "According
to my sources, Suy Sreng is really linked to CFF.
"So far he has been living in Trat province [across the border from Koh Kong]
in Thailand, but right now he's missing. I don't know where he went ... I'm not sure
whether he is still staying in Koh Kong."
He had also heard talk of Thai "terrorists" recruiting Cambodians, but
said there was no official basis for the information.
Koh Kong governor Yuth Phouthang said he'd never heard of the group. The Thai Embassy
could not be contacted for comment.
Charges were dropped against Sou Kim, Penh Bora, Van Vuthy, Chea Chanthorn and Tuy
Bol at the Phnom Penh municipal court on October 6, while Suy Seng, Teng Toek, Kim
Bon and Chhen Pov were tried in absentia and acquitted.
The trial was previously postponed because the lawyer for the absent suspects also
failed to show up in court.
Human rights groups have questioned arrests and convictions of CFF suspects in the
past, saying the group is used as a cover for weeding out military enemies unconnected
to the CFF.
The motivation for the April bomb attack is still under debate. Officials blame the
CFF while some locals say the incident was prompted by jealousy of the successful
But Kang So Khom is certain his district is a hotbed for terrorist activity and has
the scars to prove the area is troubled by violence.
On the night of April 10 he was shot in the shoulder as he slept at his house, sparking
a 20-minute shootout in which he wounded the now-jailed Mul Nop in the leg.
"While the police chief was shot and could not make any orders, they took the
chance to attack the ferry," said Khom, who says he has sustained 49 shrapnel
and bullet wounds in his 16-year career as a soldier and policeman.
That night police found a detonator rigged to a B-40 rocket planted on the ferry
and took it to a nearby police hut where it exploded around dawn on April 11.
Later that morning a teenage boy discovered two more bombs. The ferry was towed two
kilometers away and the devices were dropped into the water and detonated harmlessly
The injured Mul Nop was taken away for medical treatment. Police say he confessed
three days later and identified other assailants who were then rounded up by the
large number of provincial police who had come to the area.
Police confiscated seven rifles from the suspects' homes, said Khom, but no evidence
was found linking the men to the CFF.
The suspects denied being involved with the outlawed rebel group and told media at
the time they had been promised $500 by a man identified only as Mr Heng for carrying
out the attack.
Khom says this is Teng Kim Heng, who lived 200 meters from the police chief's house
and was involved in the April attack, acting on orders from his brother Teng Kim
Hong, a leader of the Suy Sreng group. Both men remain at large.
Meanwhile, police are tracking militants and conducting nightly patrols of Andaung
Teuk, locals are closing their shops early during the Pchum Ben festival in this
small town on the road from Phnom Penh to Koh Kong town, many reluctant to venture
out after dark.