PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – If you had never heard of a country named “Swithzealand” or a nation called “Franch,” then you might want to visit the website of the Khmer National Liberation Front (http://en.knlf.net). It claims supporters in these two nations, as well as seven others.
Ten members of this obscure political group, which the Hun Sen government calls a terrorist organization, were arrested last week for distributing leaflets in Phnom Penh.
But what is the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF)?
Sam Serey, the 34-year-old president of the KNLF lives in exile. He divides his time between Thailand and Denmark, where he was accepted as a refugee, along with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. He says he and his wife are studying Danish and support themselves and their political activities with the $3,500 monthly stipend they receive from the Danish government.
The Liberation Front’s website features a photo of Mr. Serey shaking hands earlier this year with Denmark’s new Foreign Minister, Martin Lidegaard. A photo of Angkor Wat balances between them. It is unclear if it was photoshopped in, or the two men are carefully balancing the glass covered framed photo.
“I fled to Thailand because the Hun Sen authority tried to arrest me in Cambodia,” Mr. Serey said Monday in a Skype interview from Thailand. “At first I was a member of the Sam Rainsy Party in 1998. [But I started my own party] because I see that the policy of Sam Rainsy is the same as Hun Sen’s policy, as they both support China, and China is communist. I don’t support communists.”
Other than not supporting communist nations, Mr. Serey said his party – which he estimates has about 5,000 members in Cambodia – is different from the CNRP because he does not believe in participating in elections. Rather, he said, what Cambodia needs is another UN peacekeeping force.
“Election is not our strategy to solve the problem in Cambodia, because our country is a secret colony of Vietnam,” he said. “That’s why we need the UN and international law to help solve the problem.”
Mr. Serey denied government allegations that the KNLF has engaged in terrorist activities, such as planting bombs in Phnom Penh and kidnapping people.
“We’ve never used violence,” he said. “I think the government put the bomb themselves in order to arrest us.”
Asked about kidnapping, Mr. Serey laughed and said that he has no experience in that sort of thing because he is a graduate of the Royal University of Law and Economics. After he finished university, he worked as an English teacher, he said.
Although he does not believe in violence, Mr. Serey said that ethnic Vietnamese living in the Kingdom should be deported.
“I think most of them are here illegally,” he said. “What we need is we freedom and democracy. We don’t need Vietnam to occupy Cambodia.”
When asked if the Khmer National Liberation Front has any connection to the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, which was founded in 1979 to protest against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, Mr. Serey affirmed that the two organizations are related.
“The idea is similar,” he said. “My father was a member of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. I am a child of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. Many (former) members of KPNLF are members of KNLF now.”
Mr. Serey is from Preah Vihear, a northern Cambodia border province that was one of the last strongholds for the Khmer Rouge. He said the KNLF has no connection to the Khmer Rouge.
“We are not Khmer Rouge,” he insisted. “We are standing with democratic countries.”
Meanwhile, many in Cambodia seem to have only a vague understanding of the KNLF. The organization has 12 followers on Twitter and fewer than 200 likes on its Facebook page.
French Catholic priest Francois Ponchaud, who wrote several books about the history of Cambodia, said he has no idea about the KNLF. He said it might be a fictitious organization that is “not serious at all.”
Mr. Am Sam Ath, a senior technical advisor at the rights group Licadho, said the KNLF wants to overthrow the government. He said he does not know any KNLF members in Cambodia. He said that several of the group’s members were arrested in 2009 for allegedly planting bombs in Phnom Penh. (According to Mr. Serey, his organization did not even exist until 2012.)
“It’s not good to make an organization against the government because everyone needs peace,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “So if you want to win the elections, you need to vote. No one will join this organization because it’s illegal.”
In the interview, Mr. Serey claimed that his political movement has 5,000 members in Cambodia. But, he said, they are afraid to talk to the media for fear of arrest.