Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday welcomed the arrest of Cambodian Freedom Fighters’ leader Chhun Yasith, and rejected speculation that it was a gift from the US to thank Cambodia for agreeing not to hand over US nationals to the International Criminal Court.
US authorities arrested Chhun Yasith in California on Wednesday for allegedly planning the CFF attack on Phnom Penh in 2000.
He faces several life sentences.
“In the name of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to thank the US government” for the arrest, Hun Sen said at the Council of Ministers.
“I think that this arrest is not a gift to Cambodia” for ratifying the agreement with the US on the ICC on May 18, Hun Sen added. “This is a joint cooperation taken against terror that both the US and Cambodia are obligated to.”
The premier appealed to anyone involved in the CFF “to come out and present themselves to the competent authorities so they can avoid…arrest.”
Los Angeles Federal Court on Thursday refused to grant bail to Chhun Yasith.
“He poses a danger to the community so he should remain in jail,” said Thom Mrozek, a US public affairs official in California.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said by email Thursday that he hoped that in the light of the US renewing its interest in the CFF attack, it might consider taking action over the 1997 grenade attack on a peaceful opposition demonstration in Phnom Penh where 13 people were killed.
The opposition has long maintained that after the US investigated the grenade attack, it failed to divulge its full findings to protect Cambodian authorities who were allegedly involved.
Sam Rainsy also charged that Chhun Yasith may have been a government agent used as a pretext to crackdown on the opposition. “Chhun Yasith is at best a dangerous clown, financially greedy and politically unconscious, at worst an agent of Hun Sen’s police who has done a lot of harm to the democratic and law abiding opposition by providing pretexts…to arrest dozens of SRP members,” Sam Rainsy wrote.
The US appears to be moving closer to the CPP, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Friday.
He said he believed Chhun Yasith’s arrest is partly a trade off over the ICC agreement.
The US “is more and more satisfied with the cooperation of the ruling party,” and appears to be more interested in terrorism and human trafficking than democracy and human rights in Cambodia, Son Chhay said.
“We are always suspicious of Chhun Yasith’s activities. There’s a lot of rumors that the [Cambodian] government is behind him,” Son Chhay added. “We want to see what Chhun Yasith is going to say [in court].”
The US Embassy declined comment on the case Friday and Chhun Yasith could not be contacted. (Additional reporting by Yun Samean in the US)