Anti-Vietnamese Groups Plotting in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 03 November 1995
By Nate Thayer
A NTI-COMMUNIST, ethnic Vietnamese groups advocating the overthrow of the Vietnamese government have been operating in Phnom Penh for over a year, according to diplomats and government officials.
The groups - under names such as "Free Vietnam" and led by people who include Vietnamese Americans who held senior positions in the former South Vietnam government - are said to be armed.
Cambodian officials are aware of the groups, but have so far refrained from clamping down on them.
A senior Ministry of Interior official, who requested anonymity, said: "We learned about this more than a year ago but so far there is no real organization... We have not arrested anyone [but] the government does not support any 'Free Vietnam' movement... we continue to trace their activities and [try to] destroy them." But the official said the groups had no weapons and were doing nothing illegal.
Other sources, including diplomats, disagree, saying that the groups are well-armed. One government source said: "It's not a surprise they have weapons, anyone can buy weapons in Cambodia."
As well, senior Cambodian officials say that elements of the Cambodian government are directly implicated in giving assistance and permission to the groups to operate in Cambodia. Said one senior Cambodian official: "They came to meet with us and said that they wanted to overthrow the Vietnamese government and once that was achieved promised to leave Cambodian soil."
While the number of organizations is unclear, the US Embassy confirmed it knew of one called Vietnam Tudu (Free Vietnam), operating in Phnom Penh since early 1994. Embassy spokesman Frank Huffman told the Post on Nov 2: "We're aware of the group [Free Vietnam]. We have no connection with it nor do we wish to."
Vietnamese sources say that another organization operating in Phnom Penh is called Chinh Phu Vietnam Phuc Quoc (Restore the Vietnamese Government).
The groups have alarmed Vietnamese authorities and the matter has been raised at the highest levels with the U.S. Government. Sources in Hanoi say possible American involvement was raised during U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's Aug 5 visit to Hanoi when the U.S. pledged full cooperation to thwart the group's activities in the U.S.
Huffman confirmed the U.S. position: "We, of course, do not support their objectives because we have good relations with the new Cambodian government and of course have recently established full diplomatic relations with Hanoi."
The Cambodian government has denied any involvement or support for these groups. Information Minister Ieng Mouly said on Nov 2: "Because of our neutrality, we cannot let any foreign groups conduct political or military operations against a neighboring government. [If they do] they must be punished... I think our police must know about this but I don't know [about] the way they handle this affair."
Sources say the groups are led by former general of the pre-1975 Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), many of whom were given refuge and citizenship in the U.S.
In Cambodia, the groups are said to have as many as 2,000 members, have issued "membership" cards, established legitimate front organizations including a construction company and a training center, and are circulating propaganda in Vietnamese describing the program of a new government and its organizational chart.
A Vietnamese-language publication called Vietnam Tudo, on sale in Phnom Penh, is said to be linked to the organization of the same name. Sources also say that they learned of an "Operation Bravo" in mid-1994, headed by ethnic Vietnamese Americans aimed at overthrowing the Vietnam government.
Diplomats also say that former South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky is involved with one of these groups and has visited Cambodia recently to organize resistance operations. Ky, a former lieutenant general in the South Vietnamese Air Force, fled Saigon in April 1975 and opened a liquor store in Southern California, since acquiring American citizenship.
One diplomat said he'd heard six months ago of "nationalist" Vietnamese elements from the U.S. who were giving money to remnants of the South Vietnamese army, with the promise that former ARVN soldiers and their families would be repatriated to the West.
Similar anti-Vietnamese resistance groups have been known about for years. In the 1980s ethnic Vietnamese opposed to the current Hanoi government operated from the Thai border in secret military camps with covert Thai and Chinese support.
That related groups are now operating in Cambodia is no surprise. Said one government official: "All they need to set up operations here is $20 for the visa at Pochentong."
The issue is likely to be a source of on-going contention between the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam and it is expected to be high on the agenda of discussions when King Norodom Sihanouk visits Hanoi in mid-December.