Court: deposed premier guilty of arms smuggling

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A military court found Cambodia’s ousted co-premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh guilty of arms smuggling and sentenced him Wednesday to five years in prison.
The trial, in a court controlled by coup leader Hun Sen, lasted only six hours. Ranariddh, exiled in the bloody takeover in July 1997, was not present and was believed to be following the proceedings from Thailand.
The case could determine whether Ranariddh returns to Cambodia to run in elections later this year, under a plan that would require him to seek a pardon from his father, King Norodom Sihanouk.
Prosecutors accused Ranariddh of importing weapons and plotting a coup against Hun Sen before he himself was toppled.
The prince denied the charges and called the proceedings illegal. He refused to mount any defense and has said seeking a pardon would be an admission of guilt.
Hun Sen shared a tense co-premiership with Ranariddh, his battlefield enemy in the 1980s, after U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993. Both sought to beef up their arsenals and military strength after the elections.
Nine witnesses, including military, police and port officials, testified that Ranariddh tried to bring in a two-ton shipment of handguns, assault rifles and ammunition that was seized May 26 in the port of Sihanoukville.
Judge Nhey Thol said the evidence presented in court proved Ranariddh’s “persistent efforts … to secretly arm anarchic forces in order to create instability which would lead to the overthrow of the royal government to grab power for himself and his group.”
The judge also sentenced Ranariddh’s top military commander, Gen. Nhek Bunchhay, to four years in prison, and his chief of bodyguards, Thach Suong, to a two-year suspended sentence. Neither was present.
They have two months to appeal the verdicts, though that is unlikely given political maneuvering around the case.