Admits Knowing Leader Chhun Yasith, but Denies Involvement as Fighter
A Cambodian-American accused by authorities of being a Cambodian Freedom Fighter testified Thursday to working as a “computer expert” with self-confessed CFF leader Chhun Yasith, but denied plotting to overthrow the Cambodian government.
Sao Gilbert was the last defendant to testify on the last day of the fourth CFF trial. Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which is trying 19 men and one woman accused of being involved in the Nov 24, 2000, attack in Phnom Penh as well as three subsequent attacks in the capital, charged the suspects with terrorism and membership in an armed force under Untac laws and the Constitution.
The alleged CFF members standing trial this week, however, differed from the previous 56 CFF members tried in Phnom Penh because authorities arrested them in September and October instead of November 2000.
Additionally, this trial revealed little direct evidence linking the current defendants with the Nov 24 fighting. Prosecutors instead have relied on confessions from already convicted CFF members currently serving sentences in Prey Sar prison.
According to the court, authorities arrested Gilbert Sept 8, when he was walking off a plane at Pochentong airport. The court accused Gilbert of arriving in Cambodia from Long Beach, in the US state of California, to help aid the CFF. Gilbert has admitted to working with Chhun Yasith in Long Beach.
The court introduced several documents Thursday which it claimed proved Gilbert’s guilt, such as a computer list printed from convicted Cambodian-American CFF member Richard Kiri Kim’s computer.
The list had at least 200 names printed on it, including Gilbert’s. The court also introduced several alleged CFF recruitment forms into evidence and accused Gilbert of designing the form.
Gilbert denied the charges during less than one hour of testimony. Saying he had lived in the US for 20 years, Gilbert testified he met Chhun Yasith in Long Beach in 1999 and installed a hardware system for the self-confessed rebel leader in 2000.
During the next two years, Gilbert said, he taught computer skills in Long Beach and in Thailand to people associated with Chhun Yasith.
He did not say, however, if the people he taught were CFF members.
The turning point came when he arrived home to Long Beach from Thailand in August 2000, Gilbert said. An unidentified friend told Gilbert Chhun Yasith was trying to foster instability in Cambodia and was plotting to overthrow the government. Gilbert said he “abandoned” Chhun Yasith after he heard about the plans. By Sept 12, 2000, Gilbert said, he no longer had anything to do with the rebel leader.
In September 2001, Gilbert said, he was traveling to Phnom Penh from the US to get married and to start a two-week computer work project for the NGO Cambodian Methodist Council when the authorities arrested him at Pochentong.
“I was surprised when they arrested me at Pochentong, but I am no longer surprised because I have been in prison for six months,” Gilbert said Thursday.
He continued to deny he had any part in the CFF’s attack the bombings of Funcinpec headquarters, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation or the Vietnamese Embassy last year.
Judge Sok Setha Mony said he will hear arguments from each side and will deliver a verdict next Thursday.