|Chea Bamrong (left), vice president of the Association of Democrats, speaks during a press conference on Friday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post|
Buth Reaksmey Kongkea
The Phnom Penh Post
A Friday press conference meant to be an act of defiance and a call for justice from the so-called Kratie “secessionists” was conspicuously short on both, as two accused secessionists failed to appear as promised to demand that the government present credible evidence against them.
Instead, more than 100 active members of the Association of Democrats attended the event to publicly disavow that they had any knowledge of the alleged activities of accused secessionist ringleader Bun Ratha and his associates, and to deny government allegations that association president Mam Sonando had ordered Ratha to create an “autonomous zone” in Kratie’s Pro Ma village in May.
“Based on the real facts, we would like to ask the royal government and the public not to be confused that our association’s activities, or our association president, were behind Bun Ratha’s group,” said vice president Chea Bamrong, after expressing concern that the government’s mistaken assumption that the groups were linked might cause them to take action against the association.
Accused secessionist and association member Bun Chhorn, who remained in hiding on Friday, said that his actions, and those of his son Ratha, had nothing to do with the association.
Chhorn, who had promised to attend the conference, said he abstained after being asked to wait until Sonando’s return from a trip abroad.
“I will come to do a press conference with my director on July 16, because I want to show to the government that we are not guilty as they accused,” he said.
Warrants for the alleged secessionists were issued after the forced eviction of roughly 200 families from Pro Ma village by police and military police officers who shot and killed a 14-year-old girl in the process.
Vich Kimchhoan, 72, the association’s Kratie provincial chief since 2011, said that the association had no reason to oppose the government or break the law, and “worked only to educate the people about human rights, freedom and democracy”.
A spokesman for the National Police declined to speak about the case, and Ministry of Interior and Kratie Provincial Court officials could not be reached for comment.