Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CFF paints the town blue for 8th anniversary

CFF paints the town blue for 8th anniversary

CFF paints the town blue for 8th anniversary

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,

near Poipet.

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

revolution.

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

Sen-led government.

"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

members.

There are approximately 100 people currently in prison on charges relating to the

CFF.

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

clients.

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