Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday linked the opposition SRP to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, whose leader Chhun Yasith was sentenced to life inside a US jail on Tuesday for his involvement in an armed attack on government institutions in Phnom Penh in 2000.
Speaking at the inauguration of the city’s first overpass, Mr Hun Sen congratulated the US for the severity of the sentence handed to Mr Yasith at a federal court in Los Angeles.
On Wednesday “we got the news and we congratulate the US for sentencing the ringleader Chhun Yasith to a life sentence,” Mr Hun Sen said. “America admitted that Chhun Yasith committed terrorism in Cambodia.”
Mr Hun Sen then said that SRP members were involved in the CFF’s failed Nov 24, 2000 operation in Phnom Penh when about 50 armed men attacked the Council of Ministers, Ministry of Defense and the headquarters of the 70th RCAF Infantry Brigade.
“There were some SRP members [who] participated in the action,” the premier said, adding that SRP leader Sam Rainsy had often asked him to free SRP members accused of being members of the CFF.
“Think about it brothers and sisters. Terrorists have been accepted as [being] the members [of] the opposition party,” Mr Hun Sen said.
The SRP has previously admitted that several of the men convicted for taking part in the 2000 attack were former members of the SRP. Eight SRP lawmakers signed a letter last month, appealing for the men to be pardoned.
Yesterday, SRP spokesman and lawmaker Yim Sovann said that many of the people convicted for taking part in the attack had been tricked into joining the CFF because they had received little education. At the time of their arrest, many of those told the courts that they signed up to work for an NGO and only later found out that they had been duped into signing up as members of the CFF.
“The SRP is the only opposition party right now,” Mr Sovann said, adding that the SRP supported all convictions against terrorists.
The CPP “is scared of the SRP taking their power and that is why [Mr Hun Sen] accused us.”
Richard Callahan, the Los Angeles-based lawyer that is representing Mr Yasith, confirmed by e-mail that he planned to lodge an appeal against the sentence yesterday.
“We are extremely disappointed by the court’s decision and will file a notice of appeal,” he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)