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A who's who of Cambodia's 'shadowy rebel movements'

A who's who of Cambodia's 'shadowy rebel movements'

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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

Serei.

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

d'etat.

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".

Before

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.

The April

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

groups".

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.

Mohan's

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

numerous weapons.

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.

At the

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.

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