PRIME Minister Hun Sen has accused opposition members of involvement in an abortive coup carried out by the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) in November 2000, two days after the mastermind of the operation was sentenced by a US court.
On Tuesday, a federal court in Los Angeles sentenced CFF head Chhun Yasith, a 53-year-old Long Beach accountant, to life imprisonment without chance of parole for his role in the attempted coup.
Speaking at the inauguration of the capital’s first overpass Thursday, the premier linked the opposition Sam Rainsy Party to the plot.
“The US recognises that Chhun Yasith committed terrorism in Cambodia, and some of the members of the SRP joined that activity,” he said.
He added that SRP president Sam Rainsy had repeatedly petitioned him for the pardon of party members detained in connection with the violence.
“Terrorists were taken in as members by the political party, [and] they were jailed, but were asked to be pardoned,” he said.
Chhun Yasith, a former SRP member who formed the CFF in Thailand in October 1998, openly sought the overthrow of Hun Sen’s government.
On November 24, 2000, a ragtag group of CFF members, armed with AK-47s, grenades and B-40 rockets, attacked several government buildings. Eight people were killed and at least 14 wounded in the attacks.
Despite Chhun Yasith’s one-time association with the SRP, party lawmaker Son Chhay said Wednesday that he was expelled from the party long before the CFF was formed. “We learnt he was using the party for his own interests,” he said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Thursday that some party members were involved in the attacks, but have long since been expelled from the party.
“Anybody involved in any illegal acts are no longer SRP members,” he said. “We don’t support violence. We condemn violence.”
In April, the families of five men imprisoned in connection with the attacks appealed for a Royal amnesty, a request that was seconded by eight SRP lawmakers the week after. Yim Sovann said it was believed the CFF members were duped into taking part in the attack.
“Based on all the facts, we decided to appeal for an amnesty for the people who were cheated by the movement,” he said.