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Uncertainty over troop moves

Uncertainty over troop moves

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ARMY chiefs gave conflicting reports about troop movements in the Samrong area

of north-west Cambodia, creating uncertainty over their purpose.

A plainclothes policeman escorts two suspected members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters Sept 10.

Deputy

commander of Region 4, General Yiem Sokphanna, originally told the Post that

"more than 100 troops" from Division 2 were sent September 12 to Anlong Veng

north of Siem Reap to protect against any attack by the Cambodian Freedom

Fighters (CFF).

However, after the Post contacted his commanding officer

for confirmation, General Sokphanna backtracked and said the movements were

merely to replace border troops.

"I have just come from Anlong Veng

province, but the situation there at the moment is quiet," said General

Sokphanna earlier yesterday. "It is not possible for the CFF to do

anything."

The self-styled leader of the CFF, Chhun Yasith, a

Cambodian-American based in the US, this week said that "more than 60" CFF

fighters had assembled in Thailand. Yasith was quoted as saying that the

government should expect an attack "before the end of the year".

The

initial confirmation by General Sokphanna followed a report from an eyewitness

in Samrong who told the Post that 200 troops armed with AK-47s and small amounts

of heavier weaponry had moved to O'Smach in trucks. Three trucks arrived on Sept

10, and more pick-ups and motorbikes had arrived since. The eyewitness said that

shopowners in Samrong had started removing stocks from their stores in

anticipation of conflict.

In Phnom Penh, the Ministry of the Interior

denied the reports, with co-Minister Sar Kheng unavailable for comment by press

time Thursday. Pol Saroeun, deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces (RCAF), said he had no knowledge of troop movements. When asked

about the possibility of a CFF attack, he only asked the Post not to show any

interest in the matter.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann spoke to

the Post Sept 13 about ongoing efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation

(FBI) to find evidence implicating the CFF in acts to destabilize

Cambodia.

Wiedemann and members of the FBI met with Sar Kheng August 27

to discuss the FBI's investigation, which began after the attack last

November.

"If what [the US-based citizens] claimed was true - that he

would use violent means to overthrow a foreign government with which we have

relations - then that would be a violation of US federal law. We have a

responsibility to continue investigating, and that's what we're

doing."

However, he said that under no circumstances would the US

extradite Yasith, who is a US citizen, to Cambodia to stand trial.

"We

have made it very clear to the Cambodians that we cannot extradite. They have

requested that, and we have said we are sorry, but it's not going to happen. Our

policy is not to do that," he said. Other than that, though, the government here

was "reasonably satisfied" with US efforts.

"The question is: are [the

CFF] undertaking illegal action, apart from declaring credit for violent events.

That's what we have to determine," he said. "You can't be imprudent or

irresponsible about these things - look what we went through in New York and

Washington a couple of days ago. You can't take those kinds of threats

lightly."

"If we find that those claims [of responsibility by the CFF for

attacks] are backed with evidence that indicate that it's more than words, and

that there is a link between what those guys have said - Chhun Yasith and the

rest - and the violent events that occurred here on November 24th last, then I

would hope that we would be able to prosecute those people," said

Wiedemann.

In the past week authorities have arrested 16 alleged members

of the CFF in Phnom Penh and Battambang. Some were later released, but seven

were charged in Phnom Penh.

Although some of the accused admitted to

belonging to the organization, Yasith said the men had nothing to do with him.

Investigating judge Kim Sophoan said that based on the results of his

investigation, more arrests were imminent.

Sok Roeun, the municipal

prosecutor, told the Post September 12 that seven suspected CFF were charged by

the Phnom Penh municipal court with terrorism acts and membership of an illegal

armed group under articles 1 and 3 of the anti-terrorism law and the UNTAC penal

code.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told the Post yesterday that the

CFF had planned to launch an attack in Phnom Penh at midnight on September

12.

"The CFF is still unable to affect Cambodia," he said.

One

accused told police that he was offered $700 to throw a grenade at Prince

Sirivudh and $500 to bomb the National Assembly.

The police raid

uncovered grenades, CFF flags and disks.

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