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The CFF attack: schools of thought

The CFF attack: schools of thought


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

on-going speculations:

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

"absolutely not".

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

months ago.

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.

Amid this,

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



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