Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vietnamese supported, funded by US group

Vietnamese supported, funded by US group

Vietnamese supported, funded by US group

T HIRTEEN Vietnamese who ran into the US Embassy March 15 were told to seek asylum

there by a California-based group called the International Missing Persons Foundation

(IMPF).

The thirteen - along with some 38 others who didn't make it in before the gates shut

- say they were part of the "Free Vietnam" anti-communist movement.

They say the IMPF - apparently a group founded by US veterans - gave money each month,

and had done so since a "special agent" visited Phnom Penh and started

the movement in August 1994.

They say they have been harrassed and watched by Cambodian police and "Hanoi

spies." Three of their members have recently been deported from Cambodia to

Vietnam - although no extradition treaty exists between the two neighbors - and

friends and relative say they've "disappeared."

Their Phnom Penh offices - called "CFC" - a construction company, cum 24-hour

legal advise, photocopying, typing and fax agency, and soon-to-be-opened restaurant

- were looted and locked by police "with cocked guns" on March 13.

On March 14 they got word from a man named An Mai, the IMPF's "special agent,

Bureau of Investigations" in California, to gather at the US embassy at 4pm

the following day.

"We were told [the Americans] would take care of us," said one of the asylum

seekers.

Asylum was refused the 13 after charge d'affaires Bob Porter got "assurances"

from co-Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry that the Vietnamese would not

be deported as long as they obeyed the law.

That satisfied the Americans and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), who

got the "political squatters" to leave the embassy around midnight. The

Vietnamese however are far from reassured.

Interviewed outside the UNHCR on March 18, most of the group were worried about their

safety. They said they feared to go home.

In hushed tones they pointed out someone they described as a "Hanoi" man

mingling with their group outside the UNHCR offices - apparently a Chinese national

who showed the Post a Spanish Ministry of Interior identification card with his photo

and name. He claimed in broken English only to speak Spanish and Chinese.

The group were waiting to be interviewed by UNHCR staff, who at press time "had

not yet made up our mind whether they are people of concern to the UNHCR," according

to senior protection officer Walter Hoffmann.

Hoffmann said that many of them "had different agendas... and backgrounds."

He explained people had to demonstrate that they were outside their country of origin,

and had well-founded fears of persecution based on their political opinion, to be

considered political refugees.

Group members made no secret that their company - CFC - was funded from California.

The Post confirmed that CFC rented office space at $1,000 a month, "... and

look at us," said one of the group, "we don't have that sort of money."

CFC (Cambodia and Five Continents) also gave the Tudo newspaper up to $500 a month

and operated the "Vinalab" labor union and the Tudo political movement

that claims, according to its members, more than 1,000 supporters in Cambodia.

Most of the group also belong to the California-based Brotherhood Rally of All Veterans

Organization (Bravo) - whose laminated cards tell its members they are all "media

commandos" belonging to a "vehicle for veteran related activities, opportunities

and events."

Ly Chandara, the editor of Tudo, was arrested at dawn on March 9 by Cambodian police

and driven in a convoy to the Vietnamese border, according to his wife Chieu Mei.

There he was met by Vietnamese officials, and she says she does not know what happened

to him afterwards.

She said she did not expect to see him again.

A spokesman at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh said he knew nothing about Tudo

or the deportations, other than what he had read in the papers.

The Ministry of Interior has said that a fourth wanted man was still in hiding, and

a ministry official said that "they cannot, on a whim, use Cambodian soil to

conduct political activities against another country."

Chieu Mei claimed that her husband was not political.

She said she had business dealings on behalf of the newspaper with the boss of CFC,

Ly Thara, who was deported along with Chandara and a third person.

She said Thara would give her around $300 to $500 a month for the paper. She also

said that on Nov 29 Thara organized three computers and a fax machine to be sent

from California for the paper to use.

The equipment was seized and three Vietnamese with US papers were arrested at Potchentong

- later to be released and deported back to the US. US Information Service (USIS)

director Frank Huffman said he was not aware of the incident.

Chieu Mei said: "Indeed, CFC was political but they told us not to get involved.

"They told us to continue to arrange help for the poor, for example when CFC

were going to make a donation of money to poor Vietnamese, we should advertize,"

she said.

Along with her four children, Chandara's wife was among those locked out from the

US Embassy on March 16. When told that those who made it had not been given asylum,

she said: "I should be angry, because some people are not involved in [politics],

including my husband. But maybe because my newspaper helped spread the charity of

CFC, that's why we got into trouble.

"But for the people inside, why didn't the US Embassy help?"

When told that Porter had assurances from Hockry and Kheng about the safety of the

asylum seekers, she reiterated others' comments: "No, I don't believe that.

I absolutely don't."

When asked on the night why the Vietnamese had picked the US for asylum, Porter said

his embassy had simply been a "target of opportunity."

USIS director Huffman said that the embassy had heard of the Bravo movement, but

not of IMPS nor CFC.

Huffman pointed out that the the US had full diplomatic relations with Phnom Penh

and Hanoi "and we don't support any extra judicial movement that would cause

trouble" between Cambodia, Vietnam and the United States.

"Obviously we don't support [Bravo's] activities that we understand to be anti

the Vietnamese government," he said.

He said he was not aware of any investigation into Bravo "but that's not to

say if we continue to get drawn into it we might not say hey, what's going on with

these people continuing to cause problems."

Huffman said that it was "not an option" to seek political asylum in US

embassies "unless someone runs in hot pursuit and they're in danger of losing

their lives... only then would we allow them to stay. These people didn't come into

that category."

The Post meanwhile interviewed Bravo Chief Executive Officer Tony Donovan in California,

who said he knew nothing about the IMPF.

Donovan said one Bravo officers - Tony Chan, who had since been sacked - had been

misusing Bravo membership cards in Cambodia for some time.

"I have no idea where [Chan] is, or where he has gone. I haven't seen him,"

Donovan said.

"When we found out he was into extra curricular activities, we fired him. That

was about 18 months ago," he said.

Donovan said there were many legitimate members of Bravo in Cambodia. The head of

Bravo South East Asia - a former ARVN special forces colonel, Ho Dai Chan - was presently

in the United States "clarifying misconceptions about Chan's time in Cambodia."

Dai Chan was in charge of Bravo's activities in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Bravo was a veterans' organization that was not party to any political movement,

and was not "anti-Hanoi" or anti any government, he said. "We are

just tired of seeing people die," he said. "We help people."

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