06 June 2005

A connection between terrorists and Republicans! Um, kinda.


This is getting a little weird. The headline in The Cambodia Daily — story from the LA Times — is "CFF Leader Raised Funds for US Republicans".

For those who are just catching up to this story, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) are a group opposed to Hun Sen's regime here. They have an armed force of perhaps 100, and in November 2000 (just before my first visit here, because it's all about me, you know) they launched a nighttime attack on government buildings in Phnom Penh. Eight people died in those attacks.

The "coup attempt" was then used by Hun Sen as a convenient excuse for getting rid of people he didn't like. They got accused of being part of the CFF, convicted by pliant courts, and sentenced to jail terms ranging from five years to life.

The CFF was duly noted in some State department documents — but not in others — as a terrorist organization. The leader, Chun Yasith of Long Beach, CA (home to many Khmer-Americans), nevertheless was not arrested until 1 June 2005.

In the meantime, it seems he's been raising thousands for the Republican Party, and was even on their Business Advisory Council.
[Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher [R-CA] said he was aware of the State Department's concerns about the Cambodian Freedom Fighters but remained a supporter of Chhun and his allies because of their passionate efforts to topple the Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
So it seems that, once again, one man's (or State Department's) "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter".

The Cambodians I talk to think that the whole "coup" was simply a way for Chun Yasith to earn some money. He collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from fellow Khmers in the US, promising that the money would be used to fight Hun Sen. Then he brought some rural Cambodians into Phnom Penh, put guns in their hands, and had them attack. There's some reason to think this might be true:
Many of those arrested in the wake of the November 2000 raids said that they were farmers who had been lured to Phnom Penh with the promise of construction jobs, only to be given guns upon arrival, the FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW reported at the time.
For the record, I think Cambodia could use a much better government than Hun Sen's kleptocracy. But the change in government must come from the Cambodians. Whatever the CFF's purpose was in attacking government buildings, it hardly qualifies as a serious attempt to bring that about. The Republican party would do well to distance themselves from this group as soon as possible.