K hmer-American Chhun Yasith, head of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), will face a US Federal Court in Los Angeles next month for his alleged role in masterminding an insurrection in Phnom Penh in 2000 as well as for fraudulent acts in the United States, a senior government law enforcement official said.
Moek Dara, director of the anti-drug department at the Ministry of Interior (MoI), said the government has asked him to lead a delegation of 14 Cambodians believed to have been victims and witnesses of the attack to California to attend the trial.
"This is the first time that Cambodia has joined a very important trial in the US," Dara said, "We will see the US court system and learn from the experience."
Dara, who was director of the MoI's criminal department before becoming director of the anti-drug department, said Cambodian police have worked with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since 2000 to apprehend Yasith.
Yasith, 49, the self-proclaimed instigator of the attacks in Phnom Penh, was arrested at his home in Long Beach, California, along with his wife in June 2005. He was charged with violating the US Neutrality Act, which prohibits conspiring to kill or damage property in a foreign country. His wife, Sras Pech, 39, was arrested for fraudulent tax activities in their Los Angeles accounting business.
"He will face a life sentence if the US court finds him guilty," Dara told the Post on July 11.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the US court system is independent and will not be swayed by outside pressure.
The CFF's most infamous act was in November 2000 when more than 70 CFF members stormed the Ministry of National Defense and the Council of Ministers buildings armed with rifles and rocket launchers. Eight people were killed and more than 12 were injured. Forty-five attackers were captured.
The group also claimed responsibility for other incidents; plotting to blow up a karaoke bar and fuel depot outside Phnom Penh in 1999 and a graffiti attack on the walls of the French embassy and other places in Phnom Penh on April 22, 2005.
There are approximately 100 people in prison on charges related to the CFF, and Yasith has been convicted twice in absentia for leading the CFF activities.
"The CFF is not a terrorist group, but an anti-communist group based in Long Beach, and openly our office is licensed by the Secretary of State of the US," Yasith wrote in an email to the Post a month before he was arrested, "CFF's leaders are not hiding in a grave or hollow along the mountain somewhere in the world as Bin Laden."
Yasith founded the CFF in 1998 in California and claimed to have 500 members in the US and around 5,000 in Cambodia. He had previously been a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, but was asked to resign after insisting the party's non-violent approach toward Prime Minister Hun Sen's government was useless.