Juggling business in the United States and revolutionary struggle in Cambodia requires
a few compromises for the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF).
An event that took place in Long Beach, California, on April 28, to celebrate the
eighth anniversary of the group was held almost six months ahead of the actual founding
date in order to accommodate the busy schedules of its board of directors, said Phana
Xieng, CFF general secretary.
"We choose any day during tax year to celebrate our anniversary due to the circumstances
that we can be possible [sic] free to meet all board directors from all over the
states," wrote Xieng in an email to the Post received May 13.
Xieng said the CFF was actually founded on October 19,1998, in the Thai town of Aranyaprathet,
Despite being nearly half a year early, about 500 people turned up to the New Paradise
Restaurant in Long Beach, not far from the accountanting office of CFF president
Chhun Yasith. His office also doubles as the group's headquarters.
A journalist from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, however, said by email that party-goers
looked more like clients and business associates than political allies plotting a
Yasith said raising awareness of the premature anniversary celebrations was one of
the reasons for a graffiti attack in the early hours of April 22 in Phnom Penh.
The initials CFF and the first letter of the Khmer alphabet, kor, were spray painted
dozens of times on the walls of the French Embassy, Wat Lanka, the government controlled
Apsara radio and TV station, Boeng Keng Kang high school and Wat Mohamontrei.
The CFF claimed responsibility for the graffiti, saying 2005 will be the "victory
year", when the organization will realize its stated aim of toppling the Hun
"There will be more activities happened [sic], and militant planning will take
place in order to mark the 8th anniversary, because the 8th anniversary is number
8, which is a handcuff for those individuals who are corrupted and are Vietnamese
puppets," wrote Yasith by email on 6 May.
He said that the letter kor was code for a large team occupying Phnom Penh and claimed
that CFF agents were hiding in the police force, army and government - which he said
was why there have been no arrests or even witnesses to the graffiti of public places.
The Sam Rainsy Party, however, has questioned Yasith's bold claims, saying the CFF
is used as an excuse for the government to clamp down on dissent and harass opposition
There are approximately 100 people currently in prison on charges relating to the
The graffiti attack occurred days after 14 people convicted of CFF-related crimes
had their verdicts upheld by the Appeals Court. Another 19 jailed CFF members also
had their appeals denied the day of the spray painting.
Seven men sentenced in 2001 to three years in prison for CFF activities remain in
detention despite having served their time. They had appealed their sentences but
later dropped the appeals. However, in a quirk of the system that human rights workers
say breaches the most basic tenants of international law, they are being detained
pending an appeal by the prosecution.
Yasith has been convicted twice in absentia for leading the CFF, and despite being
listed as a terrorist group by the US State Department, he said he receives no pressure
from the American government because the CFF is an "anti-communist" organization
with democratic values.
But even "freedom fighters" have to earn a living, and the recent scheduling
of the CFF's anniversary celebrations is not the first time that the corporate responsibilities
of members have influenced their revolutionary timetable.
After the skirmish in 2000 - code named the "Popcorn Operation" - in which
armed CFF members attacked government buildings in Phnom Penh, Yasith fled to Thailand
and then back to the United States in time to start preparing tax returns for his