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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cambodia's top court upholds life sentences for Islamic militants

Thai nationals Muhammad Yalaludin Mading (2nd R) and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming (R)

Thai national Abdul Azi Haji Chiming (R) is handcuffed with Cambodian Sman Ismael

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld life sentences for three Muslims convicted of plotting terror attacks against the British embassy and a UN agency in the capital Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Sman Ismael and Thais Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading were sentenced in 2004 to life in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for plotting attacks here between 2002 and 2003.

Despite persistent criticism of the prosecutions from rights groups, a five-judge panel ruled that evidence proved the three had helped Islamic militant Hambali, an alleged key member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network, to plan the strikes.

Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, reportedly spent several months in Cambodia before being captured in Thailand in 2003. He was later handed over to US authorities and is now being held at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"There is enough evidence to prove that the three men facilitated Hambali's group in preparing terror attacks," said judge Khim Ponn, adding that the group had intended to strike the British embassy and the UN children's agency UNICEF.

Hambali, an Egyptian and a Malaysian were tried in absentia in Cambodia and sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for their roles in the planned attacks, which Khim Ponn said were intended "to cause the loss of many lives."

All three imprisoned men have repeatedly denied the charges against them, with Sman Ismael saying after Wednesday's hearing that the court only used "evidence written on a piece of paper by the United States" to find him guilty.

"I am not a terrorist. I had no plan to kill people," he added.

The trio's lawyer, Kao Soupha, told AFP that there were no witnesses to prove that his clients were conspiring with international extremists, adding that the court's decision was "unacceptable."

Speaking in Thailand, the wives of the two Thai men protested the decision, accusing the court of trying to curry favour with the Americans.

"Our husbands went to Cambodia to work as religious teachers, hoping that they could earn more money than in Thailand," said Asisa Haji Chiming, 33, who has three children with husband Abdul.

"But they were accused of being terrorists and planning to stage attacks," Asisa told AFP in Yala province in the Muslim-majority south of Thailand.

"We have closely monitored the case for five years with high hopes that they would receive justice and be freed, but we think the Supreme Court has delivered a verdict just to please the US."

Asisa and Muhammad's wife, Parida, 42, said they plan to petition to have their husbands moved to Thailand to serve their sentences, so they can ask for a royal pardon for the two men.

JI has been blamed for the October 2002 bombings in the Indonesian resort of Bali that killed 202 people.

Washington has lauded Cambodia for its role in the US "war on terror," with the country's leaders earning praise from top American police and military officials seeking better co-operation with Cambodia's government on anti-terror efforts.

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Cambodia vigilant for chemical, nuclear weapon imports

PHNOM PENH, March 12 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian government has remained committed to preventing any chemical or nuclear weapons smuggled into the country, said English-Khmer language newspaper the Mekong Times on Wednesday.

"The government still continues to prevent the import of chemical and nuclear weapons to keep peace and stability, while countries around the world are facing threats of terrorism," said Em Sam An, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry while addressing a National Awareness Workshop of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) here on Tuesday.

Cambodia cooperates with several other countries on weapons control and has held a strong stance on the issue since 1993, he said, adding that the country has destroyed over 190,000 weapons since then.

"The Interior Ministry has prohibited the circulation of chemical weapons and cut down on the level of weapons in the country with positive results from the crackdowns conducted by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces," he said.

Cambodia ratified CWC in July 2005, becoming the 170th member of the convention.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia
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