Cambodian Freedom Fighters Leader Gets Life for 2000 Attack

The leader of the former anti-CPP movement known as the Cambodian Freedom Fighters was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison without parole at a federal court in Los Angeles for his role in masterminding an attack on government institutions in Phnom Penh in November 2000.

Chhun Yasith, 53, who has lived in Long Beach, California since 1982, will serve out his sentence in a US prison.

The Cambodian government welcomed the news yesterday, with Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong saying that the court’s decision would help nullify the threat of terrorism in Cambodia.

“This [sentence] is the elimination of terrorism,” Mr Namhong told reporters outside the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “We are pleased with the American court’s decision…. We welcome this sentence because [the CFF] are terrorists.”

In April 2008, a federal jury convicted Mr Yasith on four charges: conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to destroy property in a foreign country, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in a country outside the US, and engaging in a military expedition against a country with which the US was at peace.

The convictions related to a so-called failed attempt to overthrow the government in the pre-dawn hours of Nov 24, 2000, when about 50 armed men attacked the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Defense and the headquarters of the 70th RCAF Infantry Brigade using automatic rifles, grenades and rockets.

At least four CFF members were killed in the near suicidal attack on the heavily defended Defense Ministry, while about 12 members of the security forces, mostly traffic police officers, were injured by grenade shrapnel.

Mr Yasith addressed the court on Tuesday in a tearful speech in which he talked of his suffering under the Khmer Rouge regime that took the life of his father.

“I am not lucky like Americans who are born in this country,” he said. “I was, unfortunately, born in Cambodia.

“I had to do something for that country,” Mr Yasith said. “I’ve been punished because I failed, that I’m not good enough to overthrow that government,” he added.

Judge Dean Pregerson said he did not believe Mr Yasith was an “evil human being” but said the prison term reflected the severity of his actions.

“I do not want to be the person who does not say to all those groups that, if you conspire against the US, that the US will tolerate or be lenient to you,” Mr Pregerson said.

Mr Yasith’s attorney Richard Callahan did not respond to e-mailed questions yesterday but told reporters in Los Angeles on Tuesday that he would appeal against the sentence.

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said he believed that the sentence was just.

“It is deserved for what he did to the Cambodian nation,” Lt Gen Sopheak said.

Opposition SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that violence was not the way to fight for justice in Cambodia.

“We do not support violence of any kind…. Everything should be solved through peaceful means,” Mr Sovann said. “We condemn violence and we condemn war.

(Additional reporting by The Los Angeles Times)


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