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Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF)

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) is described by the US State Department as a "terrorist group" that has an "avowed aim of overthrowing the Government" of Cambodia. While the US State Department referred to the CFF as a "terrorist group" in its May 2002 global report on terrorism, it did not include the CFF in its August 2002 list of groups that have been formally designated as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations".

The CFF, also known as Cholana Kangtoap Serei Cheat Kampouchea, reportedly is led by a U.S. citizen, Chun Yasith, who is based in Long Beach, California (Jane's 30 Jan 2002). Mr. Yasith is a former member of Cambodia's main opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), who according to the FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW, was forced by Mr. Rainsy to resign from the SRP in 1998. The CFF emerged in November 1998 following a spate of political violence that forced many influential Cambodians to flee the country.

The CFF's exact size is not known, but the group probably has never had more than 100 armed fighters, according to U.S. State Department estimates. The rebels operate mainly in northeastern Cambodia near the Thai border. They are funded by contributions from the Cambodian-American community.

Little is known about the CFF's political views beyond its aim of overthrowing the Cambodian Government, although the group claims that Prime Minister Hun Sen's Government is a Vietnamese puppet regime. Vietnam installed Hun Sen as Cambodia's ruler in 1979, and the prime minister, who has since held multiparty elections, is widely seen as being strongly pro-Hanoi.

The CFF's ranks include Cambodian-Americans based in Thailand and the United States and former soldiers from the separatist Khmer Rouge, Cambodia's regular army, and various political factions, according to the State Department.

The CFF made headlines in November 2000 when it claimed responsibility for a nighttime raid on several Government facilities in Phnom Penh in which 8 people were killed and 14 others injured. Prior to the November 2000 attacks, five CFF members were arrested in April 1999 for plotting to blow up a fuel depot outside Phnom Penh with anti-tank weapons.

Since then, Cambodian courts have jailed several dozen people for their roles in the attacks in trials that have been widely criticized as unfair.

During the arrests of CFF suspects after the November 2000 raids, Cambodian human rights groups and opposition political parties accused the Government of arbitrarily arresting and jailing several legitimate party figures on charges of being CFF members. In December 2000, Human Rights Watch reported that, within two weeks after the November attacks, over 200 people had been arrested all over Cambodia, most without a warrant (6 Dec 2000). "Many of those arrested or detained are affiliated with the royalist Funcinpec Party of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)," Human Rights Watch reported (6 Dec 2000). In its 2002 annual report on human rights practices in Cambodia, Human Rights Watch stated that another 50 CFF suspects had been arrested in September 2001 in the provinces and Phnom Penh, and that "human rights groups expressed concern that the government's response to the CFF's November 2000 attack in Phnom Penh could be used as a pretext to intimidate opposition party members, particularly as the commune election campaign began to get underway".

The English-language CAMBODIA DAILY published charges by Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party officials that "[t]he so-called CFF's case...has been an effective measure to silence the opposition and restrict people's civil and political rights" (Kihara 15-16 Sep 2001). Many of those arrested in the wake of the November 2000 raids said that they were farmers who had been lured to Phnom Penh with the promise of construction jobs, only to be given guns upon arrival, the FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW reported at the time.

Not all who were arrested in connection with the CFF attacks were brought to trial, and that not all of those brought to trial were convicted. This is unusual in Cambodia where an arrest generally leads to trial and trial generally leads to conviction. .

Some individuals rounded up in the weeks after the November 2000 attacks may have been opposition party members, but most arrested are generally considered to have been CFF members. The second round of arrests of CFF suspects occurred in late 2001, and is regarded as more problematic in that while some arrestees were CFF associates, others were apprehended due to false leads followed by Cambodian officials. Regardless of these concerns, all those who have been convicted on charges of CFF membership are considered to be CFF members by observers including human rights groups and the U.S. government. Observers also agree that those convicted did not get fair trials).

A Battambang provincial court in March 2002 sentenced 18 people to jail terms of between 7 and 18 years in connection with the November 2000 attacks. Three Americans were among those sentenced. In February 2002, a court sentenced either 19 or 20 people, depending on the source, to terms of between 5 years and life for their alleged links to the CFF .

In two separate trials in 2001, a Phnom Penh court convicted 56 people and acquitted 4 others on charges stemming from the November 2000 raids. Some of the defendants admitted that they had hoped to overthrow the Government. Observers, however, said that Cambodian officials failed to fully investigate the attacks. They also criticized the trials for lacking genuine cross-examination and for the broad discretion the judge exercised in accepting and rejecting evidence.

"Cambodia's judicial system is weak and far from independent, with numerous court decisions influenced by corruption or apparent political interference," Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement criticizing procedures in the first CFF trial, held in June 2001.

In its 2003 annual report on Cambodia, Human Rights Watch reported "serious shortcomings" in the trials of about 50 CFF suspects during 2002 and stated that most were convicted and received "terms varying from suspended sentences to life imprisonment" (HRWa 2002). The report does not indicate the existence of concerns that any of the convicted were actually opposition political party members as opposed to CFF supporters.

The president of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters - a Long Beach, California-based organization that was formed to seize political control in the southeast Asian country - was arrested on 01 June 2005 on federal charges of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country. Yasith Chhun, 48, was taken into custody without incident at his residence in Long Beach. Chhun was arrested pursuant to two indictments returned yesterday by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

The first indictment charges Chhun with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country, and engaging in a military expedition against a nation with whom the United States is at peace. The indictment outlines a scheme in which Chhun traveled to the Cambodia-Thailand border in August 1998 to meet with Cambodian military personnel who were opposed to the ruling party in Cambodia, the Cambodia People's Party, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. At this time, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) was born. The opposition forces from Cambodia agreed to acquire weapons and Chhun agreed to raise funds for the violent overthrow of the Cambodian government.

The CFF eventually developed plans for "Operation Volcano," which would be a major assault on Cambodian government institutions and Prime Minister Sen, according to the indictment. On November 24, 2000, Chhun allegedly orchestrated the attack on the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, which included attacks on buildings housing the Ministry of Defense, the Council of Ministers and a military headquarters facility. As a result of the attack, several Cambodian Police Officers were wounded, and an undetermined number of Cambodian Freedom Fighter attackers were killed and wounded.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:40:32 ZULU