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Cambodia Court Convicts 3 Americans

June 22, 2001 GMT

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Five men, including three Americans of Cambodian descent, were sentenced to life in prison Friday in connection with a deadly terrorist attack meant to overthrow Cambodia’s government. Two of the Americans were tried in absentia.

Twenty-five others were handed prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years, and two defendants were acquitted in Cambodia’s biggest terrorism trial.

The suspects were convicted of attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government with an armed attack on three government buildings in Phnom Penh on Nov. 24.


Six attackers and one civilian were killed, and 12 wounded in the pre-dawn raids. A little-known anti-communist group, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, claimed responsibility.

The five men sentenced to life were convicted of conspiracy to commit terrorism and belonging to an illegal armed group.

Two of the men, both Cambodian Americans, were tried in absentia, including Cambodian Freedom Fighters leader Chhun Yasith, 43, a tax accountant from Long Beach, Calif. He also was convicted of being the mastermind behind the violence.

Thong Samien, 60, a travel agent also from Long Beach, was convicted of handling logistics for the attack.

Richard Kiri Kim, 51, of Oregon state, was the only U.S. citizen in custody. He was accused of being one of the key planners of the violence and of recruiting poor farmers into the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, which he often portrayed as a development aid organization helping rebuild Cambodia after 25 years of civil strife.

The other men sentenced to life in prison were An Mao, 32, and Nou Saron, 52, former Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Family members wailed as they heard the verdicts read out by Judge Sok Sethamony at the Supreme Court compound, where the terrorism trial was held under heavy police and military guard.

David Chaniawa, a lawyer for the three Americans, said he planned to appeal the verdicts. Counsel for the other defendants did not comment.

``The court is not independent and illegal procedures were used throughout,″ he said.

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters accuse Hun Sen of being dictatorial. Hun Sen belonged to the ultra-left Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and later headed a single-party Communist state backed by Vietnam.


Critics of the government, including opposition leader Sam Rainsy, have accused it of having a hand in instigating the incident, which they say provided a pretext for the intimidation of Cambodians working for nonviolent change.

Security officials have denied the allegations.