TWO weeks after the "shots heard round the world", diplomats, military analysts,
political pundits and armchair observers are still trying to sort out who and
what were really behind the fighting in the early hours of November 24.
Not surprisingly, there is varying consensus on what is really going on,
though there is widespread agreement that the general public may never know the
full details. However, several schools of thought are in circulation.
One of the wounded after the fighting on November 24
quick summary of what they are, followed by the unknowns, semi-knowns and
School 1: What you see is what you get. The
Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) exist, are a rag-tag collection of disgruntled
Cambodians, disorganised, and backed by Khmers living overseas, mostly in
America. They tried something and they failed. End of story. Very few students
in this school.
School 2: What you don't see is what counts. The
CPP are the bad guys and Prime Minister Hun Sen orchestrated the whole affair
for the purpose of eliminating "enemies". Hundreds of Cambodians enrolled
full-time at this institution.
School 3: Something in between.
Here we find some seasoned Cambodia observers, curious, sceptical and waiting
for more information, all the while talking in hushed tones at cocktail parties
hoping for the latest snippet of hard information.
School 3 is the
interesting one from this observer's perspective and from discussions with
fellow classmates there are several sub-schools in play:
Yes, the CFF
does exist. They have backers in the US and have recruited people around
Cambodia. Why their operation was such a bungled affair is still a mystery. How
many actual members they have is open to debate.
Why one of their
supposed leaders, Richard Kiri Kim, was arrested smiling as if it were his
birthday is an on-going riddle. Was he a "double agent" or just plain confused?
With the FBI back in town today and a scheduled interview with Mr Kiri Kim, he
may not be smiling any more.
Is CFF the same as the Khmer Serei with
only some confusion in translation? Some argue vehemently "yes", others say
It is accepted as fact by many observers that Hun Sen
and more than a few close insiders knew well in advance that something was
afoot. The CPP is credited with capable intelligence and several embassies are
said to have been fully briefed.
Whether Hun Sen's folks penetrated the
organization to encourage them to proceed with their misguided plan or made a
calculated decision to allow the attack because of fears that the Government
would be criticized by human rights groups for arresting individuals without
cause is open to question.
Some students believe in the latter,
especially after the flack that the Government took for events in Kratie several
The military is said to have been briefed but stayed on the
sidelines as the situation was manageable and Chea Sophara's lads could tackle
the problem on their own. Hok Lundy's people also were not involved in quelling
the attack, which indicates that orders were given in advance on who was to do
However, a discordant view is that the timing of the attack was
not known and that officials now say they were aware of it as a means of saving
Most analysts have thrown out the conspiracy theories about power
plays between China and Vietnam, with some CPP elements wanting the Vietnamese
President's visit cancelled and all the rest. Although, this subject has
consumed hours of discussion with speculation on who called the Palace when,
with what demands and what promises might or might not have been made during the
Jiang visit, or what the Vietnamese wanted which could not be produced. In the
end, more seasoned observers view the Jiang trip as a straightforward affair
organized and led by the King with all other tangents of marginal relevance to
the CFF affair.
Much talk is focused on how the Government is responding
to the shootout. There are opinions that senior officials are behaving
accordingly, that most people being arrested (though without warrants, they
concede) are being questioned and then released. Others are raising alarm bells
of a well-planned sting. Caution is the byword, and the oft-heard "Hun Sen the
chess master", three steps ahead of all his opponents is back in regular play.
What is agreed is that folks with Funcinpec and SRP sympathies in rural areas
are nervous, if not outright on the verge of panic. So, there is a sense that
the issue has to be watched closely for an increased renewal of the time-worn
methods used so often in the past.
As a corollary, the argument is made
that the center is trying to behave, knowing that they are being watched
carefully, but that in rural areas old ways die hard, trust is non-existent,
factions have not reconciled, soldiers have not been "reintegrated" and politics
is a winner-take-all proposition. Thus, losers should beware.
one can even find the politically pragmatic, if not expedient "What do you
expect the CPP to do? There are guys with guns calling for the overthrow of the
The one irony in the whole affair is that the CFF has now
gained international recognition, however one wants to look at what they have
done. Will the botched attack help in their fundraising efforts overseas? Has
the CFF become a household word in impoverished, backwater Cambodia?
this score, there is one thing on which all agree. The CFF will be heard from