A NTI-COMMUNIST, ethnic Vietnamese groups advocating the overthrow of the Vietnamese
government have been operating in Phnom Penh for over a year, according to diplomats
and government officials.
The groups - under names such as "Free Vietnam" and led by people who include
Vietnamese Americans who held senior positions in the former South Vietnam government
- are said to be armed.
Cambodian officials are aware of the groups, but have so far refrained from clamping
down on them.
A senior Ministry of Interior official, who requested anonymity, said: "We learned
about this more than a year ago but so far there is no real organization... We have
not arrested anyone [but] the government does not support any 'Free Vietnam' movement...
we continue to trace their activities and [try to] destroy them." But the official
said the groups had no weapons and were doing nothing illegal.
Other sources, including diplomats, disagree, saying that the groups are well-armed.
One government source said: "It's not a surprise they have weapons, anyone can
buy weapons in Cambodia."
As well, senior Cambodian officials say that elements of the Cambodian government
are directly implicated in giving assistance and permission to the groups to operate
in Cambodia. Said one senior Cambodian official: "They came to meet with us
and said that they wanted to overthrow the Vietnamese government and once that was
achieved promised to leave Cambodian soil."
While the number of organizations is unclear, the US Embassy confirmed it knew of
one called Vietnam Tudu (Free Vietnam), operating in Phnom Penh since early 1994.
Embassy spokesman Frank Huffman told the Post on Nov 2: "We're aware of the
group [Free Vietnam]. We have no connection with it nor do we wish to."
Vietnamese sources say that another organization operating in Phnom Penh is called
Chinh Phu Vietnam Phuc Quoc (Restore the Vietnamese Government).
The groups have alarmed Vietnamese authorities and the matter has been raised at
the highest levels with the U.S. Government. Sources in Hanoi say possible American
involvement was raised during U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's Aug 5
visit to Hanoi when the U.S. pledged full cooperation to thwart the group's activities
in the U.S.
Huffman confirmed the U.S. position: "We, of course, do not support their objectives
because we have good relations with the new Cambodian government and of course have
recently established full diplomatic relations with Hanoi."
The Cambodian government has denied any involvement or support for these groups.
Information Minister Ieng Mouly said on Nov 2: "Because of our neutrality, we
cannot let any foreign groups conduct political or military operations against a
neighboring government. [If they do] they must be punished... I think our police
must know about this but I don't know [about] the way they handle this affair."
Sources say the groups are led by former general of the pre-1975 Army of the Republic
of Vietnam (South Vietnam), many of whom were given refuge and citizenship in the
In Cambodia, the groups are said to have as many as 2,000 members, have issued "membership"
cards, established legitimate front organizations including a construction company
and a training center, and are circulating propaganda in Vietnamese describing the
program of a new government and its organizational chart.
A Vietnamese-language publication called Vietnam Tudo, on sale in Phnom Penh, is
said to be linked to the organization of the same name. Sources also say that they
learned of an "Operation Bravo" in mid-1994, headed by ethnic Vietnamese
Americans aimed at overthrowing the Vietnam government.
Diplomats also say that former South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky is involved
with one of these groups and has visited Cambodia recently to organize resistance
operations. Ky, a former lieutenant general in the South Vietnamese Air Force, fled
Saigon in April 1975 and opened a liquor store in Southern California, since acquiring
One diplomat said he'd heard six months ago of "nationalist" Vietnamese
elements from the U.S. who were giving money to remnants of the South Vietnamese
army, with the promise that former ARVN soldiers and their families would be repatriated
to the West.
Similar anti-Vietnamese resistance groups have been known about for years. In the
1980s ethnic Vietnamese opposed to the current Hanoi government operated from the
Thai border in secret military camps with covert Thai and Chinese support.
That related groups are now operating in Cambodia is no surprise. Said one government
official: "All they need to set up operations here is $20 for the visa at Pochentong."
The issue is likely to be a source of on-going contention between the governments
of Cambodia and Vietnam and it is expected to be high on the agenda of discussions
when King Norodom Sihanouk visits Hanoi in mid-December.