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20 Suspected Cambodian Rebels Go On Trial - 2002-02-18

Nearly two dozen suspected members of the rebel group known as the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) are on trial in Cambodia's capital on terrorism charges.

20 alleged members of the CFF, including one Cambodian-American and one woman, were charged in Phnom Penh municipal court for terrorism and membership in an illegal armed force.

38-year-old Sao Chum Gilbit, a computer engineer who lived in California, was arrested last September when he arrived at Pochentong International Airport in the capital. His arrest followed a crackdown by authorities, who said they had foiled an alleged plot by the CFF to launch a second wave of attacks on the government.

The CFF claimed responsibility for an attempt to topple the Cambodian government in November 2000, but was quickly defeated by government forces.

Nearly 60 people have already been convicted and sentenced for their involvement in the first attacks, which resulted in at least four deaths.

This latest trial, which is expected to last nearly two weeks, opened Monday amid tight security. Some 100 armed police cordoned off the courtroom.

Last year, the government began arresting more suspected CFF members in Cambodia's northwest, where authorities say the anti-government group is trying to build terrorist cells that can slip easily in and out of Thailand.

Almost all of those the government says are tied to the CFF have denied membership in the group. The CFF is led by U.S.-based Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith, who has threatened the Cambodian government with another attack.

Many of those testifying in previous CFF trials claimed they were tricked into coming to Phnom Penh by CFF operatives promising them construction jobs. Once in the capital, the defendants said they were forced at gunpoint to take part in the fighting.