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Hun Sen Links US ‘Freedom Fighter’ to Opposition, Terrorism

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday extolled Cambodia’s cooperation with the US in the life sentence of the leader of a failed anti-government movement, as he sought to link the 2000 attack with the opposition and terrorism.

Chhun Yasith, the head of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in a US court on Tuesday, following his 2005 arrest and 2008 trial.

He was convicted of “conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to destroy property in a foreign country, conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act by engaging in a military expedition against a nation with whom the United States is at peace and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in a foreign country,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.

Chhun Yasith, 53, who is a naturalized US citizen and was an accountant in Long Beach, allegedly orchestrated an attack involving about 50 armed men, who shot at police and government buildings in Phnom Penh one night in November 2000.

The attack failed in short order, and four of the assailants were killed in ensuing shoot-outs with security forces that also wounded 14 people. Around 100 people were arrested in a sweep following the ill-fated attack, though many were later released.

The Cambodian courts eventually sentenced 18 CFF members to prison terms ranging from five years to life. The group was branded a terrorist organization at about the time the US was grappling with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In a public speech Thursday, Hun Sen again called the Cambodian Freedom Fighters a terrorist group that had help from the opposition party, and he praised the US for its sentencing of Chhun Yasith.

“The United States government regards the head of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters as a terrorist leader who was sentenced to life in prison,” Hun Sen said.

“There are some members of the Sam Rainsy Party who joined the terrorist act, and when His Excellency Sam Rainsy met with me, he would always ask me to pardon members of the Sam Rainsy Party who joined to fight in the Cambodian Freedom Fights,” Hun Sen said.

SRP lawmakers in April requested the release of 12 party members now serving time for the attack.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said some of the opposition supporters had been duped by the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, “because they had a low education, little information, confusion and lots of CFF tricks.”

In California Wednesday, Chhun Yashith’s wife, Pich Sros, called the sentencing “unjust,” and his lawyer, Richard Callahan, said he would appeal it.