Diplomats Seek Access to Alleged CFF Members

The Australian and US ambassadors moved Monday to meet with two alleged rebels who were among more than a dozen people arrested in a police sweep of suspected Cambodian Freedom Fighters over the weekend.

US Ambassador Kent Wiede­mann said Cambodian officials have been slow to produce information about the arrests, most of which took place Thursday night, or to approve an official visit to a Cambodian-American detained with the group.

“It’s only [Monday] that I’m able to get access to an American citizen that has been arrested,” Wiedemann said, adding that consular officers met with the suspect Monday afternoon where is being detained at Municipal Police Headquarters.

Wiedemann said the man was one of three US citizens arrested at Pochentong Airport Saturday as they arrived on inbound flights from Bangkok.

Two were re­leased shortly after their arrest with no charges. Wiedemann said he does not yet know if the third man will be charged.

“We will be in continuing contact with the Cambodian authorities and with [the suspect],” he said.

The arrests cap what Cam­bo­dian authorities say is an investigation of the US-based CFF, whose leader, Cambodian-Amer­i­can Chhun Yasith, has vowed to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

A spokesman for the group, however, has denied that any of the people arrested are CFF members.

Twelve of the suspects were charged in Phnom Penh and Battambang courts on Monday with membership in an illegal armed force and terrorism.

Four of the five arrested in Phnom Penh are accused of grenade attacks on Funcinpec party headquarters and the foreign ministry in July and August.

Authorities have not said what led to the arrests, though members were reportedly well-armed when they were captured.

Australian Ambassador Louise Hand said Monday she learned from police that criminal charges are not likely against a Cam­bodian-Australian arrested among the suspected rebels.

“We’ve heard very cooperative noises from the police,” she said. “We have to say that everyone is being tremendously cooperative. There’s no sense of any problem at the moment.”

She said she has requested to see the man in custody but has not yet met him face-to-face.

The Australian-Cambodian is the first citizen of that country associated with the CFF.

“We’ve been in touch with him and in touch with the police to provide the sort of normal consular services that we normally do in these sort of circumstances,” Hand said.

She added that she was surprised by the news that an Aus­tralian citizen was suspected of CFF involvement.

The CFF has been under surveillance by Cambodian and US authorities since they claimed responsibility for a bloody raid on government offices last No­vem­ber.

“We watched Chhun Yasith’s activities with great interest,” Wiedemann said. “We have asked for cooperation from the Cam­bodians in collecting evidence about his organization to see whether he has broken any US laws.”

Chhun Yasith, who works as an accountant in Long Beach, in the US state of California, has vowed to attack the Cambodian government again before the end of the year but has also denied any involvement with those most recently arrested.


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