Thai authorities are mounting a search for Chhun Yasith, the self-proclaimed leader of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a US-based anti-government group that is being blamed for the Nov 24 fighting in Phnom Penh, The Bangkok Post reported Friday.
The accountant from the US state of California bragged earlier this week of easily moving about Thailand, where he said he was hiding for months as preparations for the pre-dawn attack on several government buildings were made. At the time of the interview he was in Bangkok and said he was not worried Thai authorities would arrest him, despite pressure from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Don Pramudwinai told The Post Chhun Yasith was reported to be near the Thai-Cambodian border but had disappeared. There is no evidence showing that he passed through any border checkpoints, Don Pramudwinai said.
The Cambodian government has branded Chhun Yasith a terrorist but he said earlier his group was trying to liberate the country from what he characterized as an oppressive regime and defended the violence from his offices in Thailand.
He claimed to be regrouping for a second attack following the failure of the first assault to do any real damage to the government. Shortly after midnight on Nov 24 several dozen purported CFF members shot it out with Phnom Penh security forces near the Ministry of Defense, leaving as many as eight people dead.
Chhun Yasith blamed his second in command, Cambodian-American Richard Kiri Kim, and government infiltrators for the botched attack.
But while the CFF may have been struck a serious blow in the skirmishes and the following roundup of suspected group members, almost 50 of whom remain in police custody, observers note it did score a public relations victory.
“Part of what they wanted to do was put their name on the map, and that’s what they did,” one diplomatic official said in the days following the fighting.