Magazine article Newsweek International

Fighting for Justice?

Magazine article Newsweek International

Fighting for Justice?

Article excerpt

To his neighbors in suburban Virginia, Sokum So is a mild-mannered jewelry-store owner and devoted member of the local church. But he has another passion: anti-communist political warfare. Twenty-five years ago So was a government intelligence agent in his native Cambodia. When Khmer Rouge rebels laid siege to Phnom Penh, So fled in a U.S. airlift. The Khmer Rouge were not kind to those left behind--including So's family. Soldiers beat his mother and four siblings with bamboo sticks, then buried them alive. "I never had any funeral [for my family] because I cannot go back," he says. "Cambodia has never had any laws. Cambodians have no justice."

So intends to do something about it. Last month the naturalized U.S. citizen stood before journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and vowed to overthrow the Cambodian government. It seemed an unlikely threat--but So belongs to a small Long Beach, California-based group of aging anti-communists called the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF). On Nov. 24, acting on CFF orders, some 80 armed men stormed the Ministry of Defense and an Army base in the Cambodian capital. The ragtag band of soldiers--many wearing orange headbands, flip-flops and Freedom Fighters T shirts--were quickly repulsed. The government had been tipped off. The rebels were ill equipped and, by some accounts, drunk.

The Cambodian government isn't exactly a modern-day Kremlin. The ruling Cambodian People's Party disavowed communism in the early '90s and has been desperately seeking foreign capital since. Elections in 1998 got an international stamp of approval, despite accusations of irregularities. …

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