Guerrilla in the Midst

The man behind the human-rights rhetoric

Photo by Daniel C. TsangFor leaders of anti-Communist demonstrations in Little Saigon, a March 1 meeting with editors of the Times OCmarked a watershed in Vietnamese-American affairs: the county's white power structure was finally paying attention.

Even as protests fizzled in Westminster, Diem Hoang Do and other organizers vowed to take the show on the road, focusing no longer on a lone Westminster storekeeper, but instead on the domestic politics of Vietnam's government.

Do, 36, says he has been an activist since he was a 17-year-old UCLA freshman. His keen sense of politics was apparent in December 1996. Just weeks after Loretta Sanchez was elected as Little Saigon's representative to Congress, Do accompanied Sanchez on a Vietnam Human Rights Day march in Westminster, where she waved the Stars and Stripes and the yellow-and-red flag of a defunct South Vietnamese regime. Sanchez later rewarded Do by asking him to brief the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in September 1997.

Over the years, Do has represented the Vietnamese American Political Action Committee, Vietnamese Professionals' Society, and Free Vietnam Solidarity. He also sits on the advisory committee for UC Irvine's Southeast Asian Archives.

But Do has avoided scrutiny of his leadership in a shadowy guerrilla group that has sent insurgents into Southeast Asia seeking to infiltrate Vietnam. In an interview on March 8, Do admitted he is Southern California director of the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (NUFLV), an international group that-like Cuban exiles in Miami's Little Havana-still dreams of retaking the homeland 24 years after the fall of Saigon.

As far back as 1991, when the Front issued an 11-page political proclamation and predicted the imminent downfall of Vietnam's government, Do was identified publicly as "an officer in the Southern California chapter" of NUFLV. More recently, the group has undergone cosmetic changes. Today, browsers of its English-language Web site (www.nufronliv.org) will discover talk about human rights-not guerrilla activity. But click on the icon for the Vietnamese version, and an entirely different picture emerges. One finds a photo of NUFLV founder Minh Co Hoang in black pajamas with his fist raised (looking remarkably like arch-enemy Ho Chi Minh), another photo of a guerrilla fighter in the jungle, and audio files of Hoang's "liberate Vietnam" speeches and of patriotic songs celebrating the Khang Chien (resistance) movement.

Similarly, the Front's English-language newsletter, Vietnam Insight, promotes the fight for human rights in Vietnam. But Vietnam Insight emerged in the 1980s from an earlier English-language publication that emphasized resistance within Vietnam, not political lobbying here. Significantly, the newsletter was called The Vietnamese Resistance. And the Front's Vietnamese-language bimonthly, Khang Chien, highlighted the resistance movement for two decades until 1997.

Many residents of Little Saigon gave generously to these resistance efforts, hoping to reclaim their homeland. In 1991, a federal grand jury in San Jose indicted five Front leaders for tax evasion and posing as a nonprofit organization after an investigation revealed that the group spent its money on personal expenses instead of on weapons to attack Hanoi.

Prosecutors said a chain of Pho Hoa restaurants served as fronts for the Front. At the time, Do told the press the group was innocent.

On March 7, Do sat quietly in the audience as Sanchez sought the Vietnamese exile community's support for her forthcoming trip to Vietnam. But the turnout was pathetic, with only 60 or so in the Garden Grove church where the meeting was held, just days after thousands had chanted "Freedom!" in Westminster. Do faces a daunting task in hoping to turn his street charges into Congressional lobbyists.

 
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