Ministry of Interior officials announced yesterday that three more villagers accused of involvement in a “secessionist plot” in Kratie province turned themselves in and confessed their guilt on Saturday, taking advantage of the prime minister’s offer of immunity for those who agree to act as witnesses.
National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said that, so far, a total of six villagers – out of an undisclosed number of accused – have admitted to planning an autonomous zone in Kratie’s Pro Ma village.
“All those villagers will move to be witnesses, and we do not know surely how many more villagers are involved, but it depends on what we hear in court,” he said.
In May, Pro Ma was the site of the forced eviction of hundreds of families involved in a long-running land dispute with agro-business company Casotim – an operation in which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by government forces.
The government has called the eviction an anti-secessionist raid, despite villagers’ repeated claims that they were simply applying for land titles.
Sok Tong, 61, one of the five alleged secessionists initially accused by the Ministry of Interior who has continued to evade arrest, said that pressure from authorities had elicited this latest round of confessions, and went on to challenge authorities to release proof of their guilt.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has to show evidence that accuses us of creating an autonomous zone, and what is it?” Tong asked. “How can I admit fault, if I did not do anything wrong as they accused me?”
Tong added that the villagers who already confessed had told him that they did so not because they were guilty, but rather to avoid arrest, and because cooperation seemed like their best shot at having their land returned.
Alleged ringleader Bun Ratha, 32, and his father, Bun Chhorn, 55, are still on the run.
Mam Sonado, president of the Association of Democrats and the director of the Beehive radio station, was arrested on July 15 for allegedly masterminding the secessionist plot.
According to his attorney, Sok Sam Oeun, Sonando is still being detained at Prey Sar prison, and will seek bail again – after being denied once already – in roughly two weeks.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]