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Cambodian Rebels Sentenced for Attacks on Phnom Penh - 2002-02-28

Nineteen suspected members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters rebel group, including one U.S. citizen, were sentenced to prison Thursday. The suspects were convicted of having a role in a bloody November 2000 attack in the capital.

The 19 suspects convicted Thursday bring the total number of Cambodian Freedom Fighter, or CFF, rebels convicted to some 75 people in three trials.

All have been charged with having a role in a November, 2000, attack on the Cambodian capital.

The most recent trial for CFF members was criticized for its lack of evidence linking the defendants to either the attack or three subsequent Phnom Penh bombings. Lawyers for the defense say they would appeal the sentences.

Gilbit Sao, 38, a Cambodian American convicted of membership in an illegal armed force, shouted "injustice" as he was loaded onto a prison truck following the sentencing. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Former Cambodian government soldier Ek Chan E was sentenced to life in prison, four defendants received 20-year prison terms, and four others received 15 years. The wife of a CFF commander who was convicted earlier and is now serving a life sentence, will spend the next five years in prison.

One defendant was not sentenced pending further investigation.

Last year, a Cambodian court sentenced the leader of the CFF, Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith, in absentia to life in prison. Mr. Chhun lives and works in California as a tax accountant.

As in the other CFF trials, observers questioned the credibility of the verdicts. Many defendants recanted earlier confessions, which they claimed were coerced.

Some diplomats in Phnom Penh have expressed concern that Cambodian authorities use the CFF as pretext to arrest political opponents. None of the defendants, many of whom were arrested in the provinces during government sweeps late last year, were in Phnom Penh the night of the November 2000 fighting.