IN the hours following the early morning attack on November 24, the Government
and media speculated on the identity of the attackers. Which of Cambodia's
"illegal rebel movements", long rumored to be secretly based along northwest and
northeast borders, was responsible this time?.
Richard Kiri Kim, professed leader of the 'Cambodian Freedom Fighters' gunmen
Before the Government
established a firm official line attributing the attacks to the California-based
Cambodia Freedom Fighters (CFF), the violence was alternately linked to both the
Khmer Serei (Free Khmer) and the Free Vietnam movement.
But do these
organizations actually exist, what do they stand for and what assessment can be
made of their level of physical threat, if any?
The "Free Vietnam" Movement
The "Free Vietnam" movement is a term applied to a nebulous grouping of
organizations mostly based in Vietnamese-American communities in the United
States. Former officers of the Vietnamese pre-communist regime form the nucleus
of these groups.
The cluster of "Free Vietnam" organizations all share a
strong anti-communist ideology and make claims of support for multi-party
democracy, free market economics, social justice, freedom and protection for
human rights in Vietnam.
Cambodian authorities periodically announce the
arrests of individuals allegedly associated with the "Free Vietnam" movement.
The most serious recent incident occurred in March when a Vietnamese national
identified as Vinh Anh Ton was arrested in Battambang with political leaflets
urging the overthrow of the Vietnamese government, four remote controls for
bombs and two boxes of detonators.
Speculation regarding the involvement
of the "Free Vietnam" movement in the November 24 violence was heightened by
both the then-impending November 27 visit (subsequently canceled) of Vietnamese
President Tran Duoc Luong, and the November 22 arrest of Le Sun Bao, 50, whom
authorities claim is linked to both the Free Vietnam movement and the Khmer
Cambodian Freedom Fighters
The Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) is another staunchly anti-communist
organization that was allegedly formed in the wake of the July 1997 coup
The CFF's alleged leader is Yasith Chhun, a Cambodian-American
accountant who resides in Long Beach California.
Yasith's previous known
Cambodian-related political activity was limited to lobbying and fundraising for
the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), a role that was cut short in 1998 when he was booted
out of the party for misuse of party funds.
The CFF's proclaimed mission
is to liberate Cambodia from "communist dictators and Vietnamese puppets,
overthrow the government... [and] bring communist leaders such as Hun Sen, and
the genocidal groups to a trial at [the] world court of justice".
November 24, the CFF last made headlines when five alleged members were arrested
in April 1999 in connection with what Government authorities described at the
time as an attempt to blow up a Sokimex fuel depot in Kandal.
1999 arrests shared the same elements of tragi-comedy as the November 24 gun
battles, with the five men apparently unable to operate the sophisticated
anti-tank rocket launcher they were caught with.
Khmer media at the time
reported that the men were arrested while awaiting the arrival of a sixth
individual who could operate the device.
Khmer Serei (Free Khmer)
The known history of the Khmer Serei
is perhaps the most twisted and contradictory of all the three "insurgent
The existence of the Khmer Serei was first revealed in mid-1999
in a series of "exclusive expose" reports in a sporadic English-language
newsletter called The Vision.
The articles - penned The Vision's
Malaysian owner-publisher T. Mohan - documented the existence of an insurgency
movement in the northeastern provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng.
reports were widely dismissed by Western diplomatic sources and prompted
suggestions that Mohan was a front man for a Government ruse to flush out
anti-government opposition elements.
In November 1999, however, the Post
reported an attack by 60 gunmen against a remote military outpost in Kratie's
Chlong District that resulted in the death of an RCAF soldier and the theft of
Kratie RCAF personnel attributed the attack to the
Khmer Serei, a group "...angry at the Government ... [who] don't like how the
country is being run".
But Khmer Serei-related news again descended into
farce in September when The Vision's T Mohan was arrested on suspicion of
attempting to extort $5000 from the Naga Casino in Phnom Penh.
time Mohan alluded to the possibility that he had been set up by renegade
elements of the Khmer Serei.
Neither Mohan nor The Vision have been seen
in public since.