Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US court finds Cambodian rebel guilty of coup attempt

US court finds Cambodian rebel guilty of coup attempt

US court finds Cambodian rebel guilty of coup attempt

A Cambodian rebel leader was found guilty by a US jury on April 16 of fomenting a failed coup attempt in his native country in November 2000 and now faces a possible life sentence.

Chhun Yasith, 52, a California accountant who arrived in America in the 1980s after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, was accused of drawing up plans for the overthrow of Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh from his modest office in Long Beach, southwest of Los Angeles.

“The planning and fundraising happened right here in the United States,” prosecutor Lamar Baker told jurors earlier this month at the US District Court of Los Angeles. “It was like the labels say, ‘Made in the USA.’”

After a two-week trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States and engaging in a military expedition against a nation with which the United States is at peace.

He was also found guilty of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country.

Chhun Yasith is scheduled to be sentenced on September 8.

 

It was misguided and naive in its execution but it was not misguided and naive in its intent. – Defense lawyer

Prosecutors said Chhun Yasith founded a group known as the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) in 1998 and was elected president after traveling to Thailand to enlist the support former Cambodian military personnel.

The CFF planned a twin-pronged strategy to bring about revolution, prosecutors said. The group was ordered to carry out “popcorn” attacks on soft targets such as karaoke bars, nightclubs and coffee houses before launching an all-out assault to overthrow the government.

After one of the so-called “popcorn” attacks – the July 2000 bombing of a nightclub in Cambodia that left two people dead and many injured – Chhun Yasith sent a fax to members “bragging about hospitals filling up with victims,” Baker said.

Chhun Yasith selected a total of 291 targets for their ill-fated coup, codenamed “Operation Volcano.”

Despite being warned by senior CFF advisors that the rebel forces were not big enough to challenge the Cambodian army and police, Chhun Yasith – based in Thailand – pressed ahead with the coup attempt, which took place on November 24, 2000.

Dozens of armed men stormed into Phnom Penh firing AK-47 rifles and rockets at government buildings, leaving at least four people dead, before the rebellion was quelled.

More than 100 people were jailed for the attack, which left Hun Sen unscathed.

Chhun Yasith was tried in absentia in Phnom Penh in June 2001 and convicted of conspiracy, terrorism and membership of an illegal armed group.

During the US trial, Chhun Yasith’s attorney, Richard Callahan, argued that his client’s “only goal was to bring democracy to his homeland.”

“It was misguided and naive in its execution but it was not misguided and naive in its intent,” Callahan said, saying his client had launched a “noble effort to save Cambodia” from the “tyrannical regime of Hun Sen.”

Callahan said his client had founded the CFF after deciding that “speeches and diplomacy were not going to be enough” to unseat Hun Sen.

Chhun Yasith and his wife, Sras Pech, 42, face another trial on July on charges of running a fraudulent tax-preparation business in Long Beach. (AFP)

MOST VIEWED

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading

  • Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to

  • Former chief bodyguard receives royal pardon

    The former chief bodyguard of late Senate president Chea Sim has received a royal pardon nearly eight years after he was sentenced to 15 years behind bars on several charges, according to a royal decree dated November 12, last year, and obtained by The Post on Wednesday.

  • Close to the edge: Hair raising pictures from Kulen Mountain

    A new hair raising attraction on Kulen Mountain has finally opened to the public, with people flocking to the protruding cliff edge overlooking green mountainous forests to take photographs. The giant overhanging rock is situated in an area known as Mahendraparvata – an ancient city of