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'Freedom Fighter' Chhun Yasith in US Court

The trial of Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith on charges related to an alleged attack on Cambodian government forces finally began this week in Los Angeles, California.

Chhun Yasith was arraigned in June 2005 on charges stemming from clashes between the Cambodian Freedom Fighters and government forces in November 2000.

Chhun Yasith is also accused, along with wife Sras Pech, of filing falsified tax claims for recently arrived Cambodian immigrants. Both are in federal custody in Los Angeles.

US federal prosecutors charge that Chhun Yasith helped lead an armed attack against a country "that is at peace with the United States."

A jury was selected last Wednesday, and by Thursday opening arguments were presented by both the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

"This accountant from the city of Long Beach decided he was going to take over a country," the New York Sun quoted prosecutor Lamar Baker saying. "And he was willing to take lives in order to do so."

Richard Callahan Jr., Chhun Yasith's attorney, said the Cambodian Freedom Fighters had tried to overthrow the "tyrannical regime" of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Sun reported.

"They attempted what they believed was a gallant effort to save Cambodia from the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen," Callahan was quoted as saying. "These men put their lives on the line for the cause....The effort was misguided and naïve in its execution to be sure, but it was not misguided in its intent."

Both sides will review Chhun Yasith’s role in forming the CFF, which allegedly included fundraising activities in the Long Beach area in the 1990s and fomenting a rebellion from the Thai-Cambodian border area.

The trial is expected to last twelve days, according to the US Department of Justice.

The attack left four of the CFF members dead and several policemen wounded.

The Cambodian government has sent 14 police officers to testify at the trial, some of them as eye-witnesses, Cambodian authorities said.

The Cambodian government requested that the US arrest Chhun Yasith for several years before the US took him into custody in 2005.