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Families seek pardon for ‘freedom fighters’

THE families of five imprisoned members of the former antigovernment group known as the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) have reiterated their request that the government pardon the men, who were convicted of involvement in a series of attacks in November 2000.

Ven Dara, the 51-year-old wife of Hem Buntheoun, one of the imprisoned former CFF men, said Monday that she had sent pardon requests seven times to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni since 2000, but had never received a response.

“The last time I sent a request to King Norodom Sihamoni was in early October of last year, but it did not result in the granting of pardons for my husband and the other prisoners,” she said, adding that, in light of the new request, she hoped a pardon would be issued on Vesak Bochea Day later this month, one of four days on which pardons are traditionally granted.

Armed with AK-47s, grenades and B-40 rockets, members of the CFF attacked several government buildings on November 24, 2000, including the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces E70 Base in Choam Chao commune. Eight people were killed and at least 14 wounded in the attacks.

Ven Dara’s husband, Hem Buntheoun, was sentenced to 13 years in Prey Sar prison for his role in the CFF attacks, and the other four men were sentenced to 15 years each.

To date, she said, they had served 10 years and four months of their jail terms.

Ven Dara says the men were tricked into participating in the attacks, and that they did not know they would be fighting against the government.
“I have no hope now,” she added, “because they have been accused of being terrorists.”

In the wake of the attacks, rights groups accused the government of arbitrarily jailing several law-abiding Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) members on charges of being CFF rebels.

Human Rights Watch reported in December 2000 that within two weeks of the November attacks, more than 200 people were arrested across Cambodia, and that warrants were not issued in many cases.

The staunchly anticommunist CFF emerged after the 1997 factional fighting and the subsequent period of political turmoil that saw many influential Cambodian leaders flee the country while the Cambodian People’s Party assumed power.

The group’s proclaimed mission statement was to liberate Cambodia from “communist dictators and Vietnamese puppets, overthrow the government … [and] bring communist leaders such as Hun Sen and the genocidal groups to a trial at [the] World Court of Justice”.

Khieu Kanharith, minister of information and a government spokesman, said Monday that he was not aware of the recent pardon request for the imprisoned CFF members.

“I don’t know about the request for pardons or who those families sent their request to, but they should send their request to the minister of justice or look for support from a legal aid group in order to follow the legal process,” he said.



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