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Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Military court tries Cambodia MP
Cheam Channy stands in the dock at the start of his trial at the Military Court in Phnom Penh Monday Aug. 8, 2005.
Cheam Channy faced the court for the first time on Monday
An opposition MP has gone on trial in Cambodia accused of trying to form a group to overthrow the government.

Cheam Channy, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, was arrested in February after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

He could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty by the military court.

The leader of the party, Sam Rainsy, and another MP, Chea Poch, were also stripped of their immunity in February and immediately left the country.

Human rights activists have strongly criticised Cheam Channy's trial, which is widely seen as a move by the government to stifle political dissent.

"Many people already have in mind which direction the outcome might take. It is unlikely they will acquit him," his lawyer Ket Khy told the Associated Press.

The judge will announce the verdict of the one-day trail on Tuesday.

Fraud charges

"The military court would like to announce the opening of a public trial to try Cheam Channy and Khom Piseth, who have been charged by the military court with forming an illegal rebel group and cheating," Judge Ney Thol is quoted as saying at the beginning of Monday's court session.

Khom Phisith, another member of the Sam Rainsy Party, is being charged in absentia.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to media prior to the National Assembly session in Phnom Penh, 03 February 2004
Sam Rainsy has been an outspoken government critic
The prosecution also added a charge of fraud against Cheam Channy, saying he collected fees from recruits to his rebel group.

"I have never recruited or appointed anyone in an army structure, nor have I taken money from anyone," Cheam Channy told the court, according to the Associated Press.

"I am pleading with the court to set me free. I have never done anything even close to what the charges against me say," he said.

But prosecutor Prum Sun Thol claimed Cheam Channy's actions "could affect national security".

Speaking to the Associated Press, Sam Rainsy said on Monday that if Cheam Channy received a severe sentence, "the trend will be very worrying".

Sam Rainsy himself faces three lawsuits charging him of defamation and slander, which stem from his claims that the government plotted to kill its political rivals, and that coalition partner Prince Ranariddh took bribes to join the government.

He fled to Paris after he, too, was stripped of parliamentary immunity earlier this year.

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31 Jul 03 |  Asia-Pacific
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06 Mar 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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