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UCLA student in front lines w/ rebel fighters in Libya

September 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 21-year-old UCLA student with no military experience has joined rebel fighters on the front lines of the Libyan revolution.

All summer long, rebel forces have chanted and armed themselves in dogged pursuit of overthrowing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

An Australian newspaper called The National posted a story showing one figure among those rebels that didn't quite fit.

Chris Jeon, a UCLA senior wearing a throwback Jerry West Lakers jersey, was pictured in the newspaper, holding a gun.

Jeon decided he wanted to link up with rebel fighters in Libya two weeks ago while most of his classmates were returning to campus to get ready for school to start.

The UCLA math major told Christian Science Monitor reporter Kristen Chick he's not worried about his safety, despite not being able to speak any Arabic. Eyewitness News spoke to Chick on her satellite phone Thursday night.

"He's flying blind. His mobile phone networks there aren't working. There's no i=Internet connection. He has, I'm sure, no idea that his story has gotten so big," said Chick. "He didn't seem worried. I think he should be a little worried, but hopefully he'll be smart enough to stay out of danger and stay safe."

Jeon told Chick that he has been communicating with the rebels using broken Italian and sign language. Jeon said he paid $800 for a one-way plane ticket to Cairo and traveled to Libya - all without telling his parents. He said he plans to get home by charging a plane ticket on his credit card.

"This is one of the few real revolutions. I just thought I'd come check it out," Jeon told Chick. "At spring break, I told my friends a 'sick' vacation would be to come here and fight with the rebels."

Jeon's friend Peter Duan said he doesn't want Jeon's actions to influence other youths who "want to do something so drastic." Duan also said he wants the government to know that Jeon is out there on the front lines and urged them to provide protection for his friend.

"I just wish that he comes home as soon as possible," said Duan.

Meantime in Westwood, students on campus are having mixed reactions to Jeon's end-of-summer trip.

"Most people's summer vacation, they go home, see their family, or take a trip to Europe or go to Mexico or something like that. But I mean this guy, he took it upon himself to like go do something I guess bigger than himself that he believed in. I think that's pretty amazing and pretty crazy," said UCLA student Doug Arneson.

UCLA doctoral student Daniel Cooper agrees.

"I'm going to give him credit. That's a pretty important thing that's happening out there in Libya," said Cooper.

Other students feel Jeon is putting his life in danger and his decision to go to Libya was too much of a risk.

"The first thing that went through my mind was he's probably an idiot. Unless he's got ROTC training or any training of any sort, he's probably just going to get himself killed," said another UCLA student Quincy Chen.

Who is Chris Jeon? On Facebook, he is pictured at what looks like a rock festival. His favorite artist is listed as Michael Jackson.

He was a brother at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity where the president says he's no longer a member. Friends said he lived at an off-campus apartment complex.

Jeon's father told Eyewitness News that he and his wife wish him well and want him to come home safe and sound. They expect their son home in about a week.

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