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President of Cambodian Freedom Fighters Organization Sentenced to Life in Federal Prison for Plotting to Violently Overthrow Cambodian Government

U.S. Attorney’s Office June 22, 2010
  • Central District of California (213) 894-2434

LOS ANGELES—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 sentenced today to life without parole in federal prison for his conviction on federal charges of conspiring to kill in a foreign country.

Yasith Chhun, 53, a United States citizen who resided in Long Beach, was sentenced late this morning by United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson.

In 2008, Chhun was convicted by a jury of four felony counts: conspiracy to kill in a foreign country count, conspiracy to destroy property in a foreign country, conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act by engaging in a military expedition against a nation with whom the United States is at peace and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in a foreign country.

The evidence presented during a 10-day trial showed that Chhun traveled to the Cambodia-Thailand border in October 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 and Chhun was made president of the group. The opposition forces from Cambodia agreed to acquire weapons and Chhun agreed to raise funds for the violent overthrow of the Cambodian government. Fundraisers were held at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and strategy meetings were held at Chhun’s office in Long Beach.

At Chhun’s direction, members of the CFF engaged in a series of “popcorns” attacks—small-scale terrorist attacks aimed at civilian targets that injured a number of civilians and killed at least two innocent bystanders, including a 15-year-old boy.

The CFF eventually developed plans for “Operation Volcano,” which would be a major assault on Cambodian government institutions and Prime Minister Sen. Documents introduced as evidence in the trial contained notations by Chhun that he would “ tear Hun Sen” apart, “cut their necks,” and “send them to hell soon.”

On November 24, 2000, Chhun 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. About 200 CFF members used AK-47 rifles, grenades and rockets during the assault. As a result of the attack, a number of people were killed, including the father of a newborn baby. More than a dozen people sustained severe injuries in the attack that was subsequently condemned by the State Department.

Seven witnesses came from Cambodia to testify during Chhun’s trial. One of the victims, who was 20 years old on the night of the attack. said he was guarding a gas station when CFF members armed with AK-47s approached him. Even though he told the CFF members that he was unarmed, the witness testified that they shot him and then threw a grenade at him.

“The United States cannot allow her citizens and residents to plan and execute violent attacks against foreign citizens or governments,” prosecutors wrote earlier this year in their sentencing brief. “U.S. foreign policy must speak with one voice and unauthorized violent attacks against foreign entities...subjects the United States to broad international and political ramifications, including possible retaliation.”

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS-Criminal Investigation.

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