Seven die as violence flares in Cambodia

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A U.S.-based group is behind a deadly “terrorist” assault on government offices, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday, urging the United States to arrest its leader.

At least seven people were killed and 12 others injured in the predawn attacks Friday on the Defense Ministry and other offices in the worst violence in Phnom Penh since Hun Sen seized power in a July 1997 coup d’etat.

In a second assault Friday, a dozen insurgents attacked military barracks 10 miles west of the capital, then fled, Col. Hem Ta, the barracks commander, said Saturday.

Hun Sen, returning Saturday from a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, did not identify the suspected ringleader but said his group operated out of the United States.

“He is Khmer with U.S. nationality … so I think that the United States will offer the best cooperation by sending this convict that committed this terrorist act to Cambodia for sentencing, Hun Sen said.

Earlier Saturday, Phnom Penh Gov. Chea Sophara said the government had documents proving that Chhun Yasith, leader of the California-registered Cambodian Freedom Fighters, was behind the attack.

Hun Sen in August accused the group of plotting to overthrow his government.

Cambodian authorities have detained at least 68 suspects and say 27 have confessed to taking part in Friday’s assault, with others remaining at large.

Calling the attacks an attempt to destabilize the capital, Cambodian officials said Saturday that they knew in advance about plans for an assault but were unable to stop it.

“Frankly speaking, we knew this would happen before it happened,” police Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said. “But since we are the government, we respect the rule of law and didn’t have any evidence against the group and couldn’t block it.”

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