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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Australia Funds Cambodian Tribunal

By Sopheng Cheang

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Australia pledged $458,000 Thursday for Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal, whose operations have been threatened by a shortage of funds as it prepares for trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Bob McMullan, the Australian parliamentary secretary for international development assistance, announced the pledge during a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

He said his government made the decision to help pay Cambodia's share of the expenses because "we want to make sure that the resources are available so that this important step in justice is capable of being properly undertaken."

The money is "available now," McMullan said.

Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's chief spokeswoman, said the contribution "takes the pressure off."

The Khmer Rouge is accused of responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during its 1975-1979 rule. So far, none of the regime's senior leaders has faced trial.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal opened its offices in early 2006 after years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the world body. Trials — conducted jointly by international and Cambodian jurists — were originally projected to end by 2009, but are now expected to run through March 2011.

To extend its operation, the tribunal is seeking an additional $114 million. It told donor countries in January it would need $170 million, a sharp increase from the originally budgeted $56 million.

The United Nations was supposed to provide $43 million for its share of the original budget, and Cambodia $13.3 million.

Jarvis said the funds that Cambodia has available are $4.9 million short of its original share. The Cambodian side now has enough money to keep operating until the end of May, rather than April as previously projected, she said.

The pledge announced by McMullan is Australia's first direct contribution to the Cambodian side, which is "very encouraging," Jarvis said.

Australia previously gave about $2.3 million for the U.N.'s share of the budget.
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Exploitation concerns prompt Cambodia to halt processing foreign marriages

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia has stopped processing documents for the marriage of its citizens to foreigners in a move to minimize the possibility of human trafficking.

The suspension follows a recent surge in the number of Cambodian women marrying South Korean men.

Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs You Ay says that as of last Saturday, approval for all paperwork needed for marrying foreigners has been put on hold.

She did not say how long the suspension will last, but that it was introduced so that government agencies handling foreign marriage requests "can work to strengthen their procedures."

The South Korean connection made headlines last month after a report by the Geneva-based International Organization of Migration said some 2,500 Cambodian women had married South Korean men over the previous four years.

Most of the marriages occurred through the services of underground matchmaking businesses.

The report said each man would pay up to $20,000 to marry a Cambodia woman, but that a bride's family would collect only about $1,000, while the rest of the money would go to brokers.

You said the government did not want to deny Cambodians the right to marry foreigners.

"But we have also seen the negative aspects out of such marriages," she said, adding that the suspension affects all foreigners, not just South Koreans.

She was not able to say how many Cambodian nationals had married foreigners.

Although the marriages appeared to be legal, the government has expressed concerns that brokered marriages could become a cover for human trafficking, in which women are tricked or forced into marriage.

Last month, it shut down two South Korean companies for engaging in the matchmaking business. Interior Minister Sar Kheng denounced the firms' activities as "human trafficking."

"You're bound to have this type of problem when it's a business-oriented, profit-making type of environment," said John McGeoghan, a project co-ordinator in Cambodia for the Geneva-based IOM.

He said the suspension "probably is going to upset a lot of people" but is "a good preventive measure" especially "if you want to protect these girls and have more potential for a better marriage."
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At Trial, Cambodian-American Coup Plotter Portrayed as Reckless

By Josh Gerstein

LOS ANGELES — A Cambodian-American tax preparer and self-described freedom fighter, Yasith Chhun, recklessly endangered the lives of civilians and his own followers when he launched a coup attempt in his homeland in 2000, a prosecutor told jurors during opening arguments yesterday at Mr. Chhun's trial in federal court here.

Mr. Chhun's defense replied that he was engaged in a noble, if naïve, attempt to free his countrymen from a despotic regime and that he had no desire to see anyone killed in the process.

"This accountant from the city of Long Beach decided he was going to take over a country," the prosecutor, Lamar Baker, said. "And he was willing to take lives in order to do so."

Mr. Chhun's attorney, Richard Callahan Jr., said the group, which called itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, had the laudable goal of removing what he called the "tyrannical regime" of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"They attempted what they believed was a gallant effort to save Cambodia from the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen," Mr. Callahan said. "These men put their lives on the line for the cause. ... The effort was misguided and naïve in its execution to be sure, but it was not misguided in its intent."

Mr. Callahan told jurors about the "killing fields" in which an estimated 1.7 million people died in the 1970s during the murderous regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. "Hun Sen had been a brigade commander under Pol Pot and unfortunately many of the same abuses continued under his reign," the defense attorney said. Mr. Callahan noted that in 1998, as the plans for the coup were being crafted, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for Mr. Hun Sen to be indicted under international law for a variety of human rights abuses, including attacks on political rallies and the killing of Cambodian opposition figures.

The defense lawyer said Mr. Chhun's contacts with American political leaders in Washington led him to believe America would back the putsch. "His CFF members also believed the U.S. would be there," Mr. Callahan said.

At the outset of his 35-minute argument, Mr. Baker showed jurors a photograph of a bloodied man sprawled on a sidewalk clutching what appeared to be a weapon. The prosecutor said the man was a private security guard at a gas station who was fired on with an AK-47 during the coup attempt and later had a grenade tossed at him by a member of Mr. Chhun's group.

Mr. Chhun, 52, faces charges of conspiracy to kill overseas, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction outside America. He also is charged with violating the Neutrality Act, a law that dates to 1797 and bars private military expeditions against countries with which America is at peace. Each of the conspiracy counts carries a possible life sentence. Violation of the Neutrality Act carries a possible sentence of 25 years in prison.

In court filings, the prosecution argued that federal law prohibits privately launched military efforts in most circumstances because of the deleterious effects such missions can have on America's relations with other governments. However, Mr. Baker did not make such an argument to jurors yesterday, leaving it to them to speculate about the possible impact of Mr. Chhun's amateur war-making on America.

Mr. Baker did stress that much of the planning for the attack was done on American soil. "It was, as sometimes the labels or the commercials say, 'Made in the U.S.A.,'" he said.

During his 15-minute opening, Mr. Callahan disagreed. "There was actually very little connection to the United States," he told jurors.

Mr. Baker glossed over the manner in which Mr. Hun Sen "came to power." However, the prosecutor acknowledged, albeit briefly, that Cambodia suffers from poverty, corruption, and human rights violations.

"The defendant and his Cambodian Freedom Fighters thought they could solve all of Cambodia's problems if they could just take over the country," Mr. Baker said. The prosecutor also suggested twice that Mr. Chhun was a coward because he stayed behind when the attempted takeover was carried out. "The defendant's encouragement stopped at the Cambodia border. When it was time for Operation Volcano, he remained in Thailand," Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Callahan said military advisers told Mr. Chhun that he could jeopardize the security of the operation by going along.

Press reports from the scene in Phnom Penh said about six people were killed when the coup attempt was easily put down by Cambodian government forces on the morning of November 24, 2000. However, Mr. Baker told jurors yesterday that only three men died and that all of them were insurgents.

The prosecution's opening contained a contradiction of sorts. While the prosecution is contending that any attempt by an American to overthrow Cambodia's government by force is unlawful, Mr. Baker at times seemed to fault Mr. Chhun for failing to use enough force.

Ultimately, Mr. Chhun's guilt or innocence could hinge not on the coup attempt itself but on the smaller-scale "popcorn" attacks that the insurgent group allegedly carried out in the months leading up to the coup attempt. Mr. Baker said Mr. Chhun was willing to cause "injuries and death to others" in order to get publicity for the group.

While jurors may be reluctant to convict Mr. Chhun for leading an assault on the Cambodian government, they may be less willing to forgive the smaller attacks, which prosecutors said involved throwing grenades into coffee shops and karaoke bars where mostly civilians would be present.

The prosecution's first witness was an FBI agent who suggested that Mr. Chhun, who worked out of a small office in a strip mall, suffered from delusions of grandeur. "He said he would become the interim president of Cambodia until new elections could be held," the agent, Donald Shannon Jr., said. Mr. Shannon said Mr. Chhun made the statement in an interview several months after the November 2000 coup attempt.

While Mr. Chhun's openness at that time would seem to suggest he thought he had done nothing illegal, Mr. Shannon said the accountant sometimes switched words to make the attack sound less violent. The agent said Mr. Chhun talked of "attacks" on government officials in Cambodia, but would then say, "I mean 'arrest.'"
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Accused Cambodia coup leader on trial in L.A.

Is United State going to put a Cambodian hero in Jail just to please the Mafia government of Cambodia? The world knew America love justice, but love to use or abuse justice?

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES, April 2 (Reuters) - The head of a California-based Cambodia resistance movement went on trial on Wednesday accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2000 against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.

Prosecutors said Yasith Chhun, 52, an accountant from Long Beach, held meetings with former Khmer Rouge members in Thailand, organized fundraisers aboard the Queen Mary in Southern California and planned the "Operation Volcano" plot in November 2000 that ended in three deaths and an unknown number of injuries.

Chhun's lawyer, Richard Callahan, told a Los Angeles jury the only goal of the self-styled president of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters was "to bring democracy to his homeland."

Callahan portrayed Chhun and his followers as naive but "desperately concerned about the people of Cambodia and their future."

"You need to see what he saw and feel what he felt," Callahan told the federal court jury.

Chhun has pleaded not guilty to four charges of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to destroy property in a foreign country, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States, and engaging in a military expedition against a country with which the United States is at peace.

He faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted.

Chhun was arrested at his Long Beach home in June 2005 after returning in the wake of the failed coup. U.S. prosecutors say he orchestrated the 2000 assault on Cambodian government buildings from a safe base in Thailand.

According to Cambodian media reports at the time, a heavily armed group attacked a police station and several government buildings in Phnom Penh in the predawn hours of Nov. 24, leaving at least four dead and more than a dozen wounded.

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility for the shootout and dozens of suspected members were arrested in Cambodia. Three are already serving life sentences in Cambodian prisons and will give taped testimony at the trial, prosecutors said.

Chhun's trial has been delayed repeatedly because of changes in his defense team.

Hun Sen, an ex-Khmer Rouge fighter who defected to Vietnam in the late 1970s, has been in charge of Cambodia for more than 20 years. (Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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