Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Brazen but Foolish Conspirator

Yasith Chhun must have thought that he led a charmed life, protected by powerful political friends in Washington. Chhun is the leader of an outfit called Cambodian Freedom Fighters, based in Long Beach. It is dedicated to overthrowing the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Chhun never made much of an effort to conceal his activities. When Joshua Kurlantzick, foreign editor of The New Republic, interviewed him in his accountant’s office for an article in The New York Times a year ago, he recounted that Chhun openly discussed future attacks on the phone in front of him.

This brazen but foolish conspirator certainly had supporters in Republican Party ranks. Before his arrest June 1 on charges of plotting to overthrow the Cambodian government, he had raised money for the National Republican Congressional Committee and attended meetings of the committee’s business advisory panel.

But last week federal authorities came down on Chhun like the proverbial ton of bricks. It charged Chunn 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 allegations involve a comic-opera putsch that Chunn orchestrated on Nov. 24, 2000 in an effort to topple the Cambodian government. Cambodian Freedom Fights attacked buildings housing the Ministry of Defense, Council of Ministers and army headquarters with grenades and automatic weapons. At least four attackers were killed.

One of Chunn’s main supporters, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), told a California newspaper, “unless these guys have been planning some kind of terrorism, meaning attacks on civilians [the prosecution] is wrong-headed.” However, the Neutrality Act, under which Chuun is charged, makes no such distinctions.

Chuun and his wife Sras Pech are also charged with running a tax fraud scheme, allegedly submitting false income tax claims for Cambodians living in America in order to claim unearned tax refunds. This may put a damper on any prominent politicians coming to Chhun’s defense.

As reported in previous posts, an element in the Republican Party has a virulent animosity against Hun Sen, whom they believe to be a communist dictator and a participant in Cambodia’s 1975-79 genocide. However, this is not the official position of the Bush administration, which recognizes Hun Sen’s government as legitimate.

Many observers believe that the only practical effect of Chunn and his merry band has been to hand Hun Sen a plausible excuse to arrest opponents as being members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters and occasionally to twit Washington for “harboring terrorists.”

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