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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anlong Veng offensive falls apart

Anlong Veng offensive falls apart

YET another dry-season offensive has fizzled out amid bipartisan posturing in the

capital. A last-ditch attempt to bring the hardline Khmer Rouge to its knees ended

in a stand-off with little more than bloodshed to show for it.

RCAF troops were ordered to halt their advance on Apr 13 after two days of pounding

the KR's Anlong Veng stronghold with artillery. Chances of a renewed offensive appear

to be dwindling as the dry-season window closes.

Directives from RCAF chiefs of staff to regroup and fortify the cordon sanitaire

around the KR base were welcomed by front-line grunts, as injuries piled up from

a grisly new array of improvised anti-personnel mines.

Meanwhile, speculation that hardline KR leaders planned to seek sanctuary with a

Lao guerrilla group if Anlong Veng was over-run has been quelled for the time being.

In the two days before being ordered to stop, front-line RCAF troops reportedly fired

between 70 and 80 artillery shells on Khmer Rouge soldiers and civilians around Anlong


Military Region 4 commander Khan Savoeun says that the Apr 11 and 12 shelling claimed

the lives of 26 and injured more that 200 KR soldiers and civilians. "I ordered

my troops to pummel the KR," he said.

Casualty reports were given by KR soldiers and civilians who have defected to the

front-line soldiers after the shelling, according to the 'Jungle Army Division' commander

Seng Pich Munyl. He reports that the new division is made up of RCAF and recent KR


"Some of the shells landed in civilian camps, that is why there are a lot of

civilians who have been killed and injured," he said. "It seemed KR soldiers

use civilians as a fence protecting them from the fighting."

RCAF general staff had reportedly told western military attaches that it planned

an all-out offensive before the wet season, but later issued orders to stop amid

factional tension in the capital.

"We planned to destroy and capture Anlong Veng soon in order to eliminate the

KR race in the country," an RCAF source said.

Khan Savoeun said that the attack on Anlong Veng had stopped because of the political

situation and that it will be too late if the government decides to attack again

this month.

"It will be too late to attack if we are ordered to fight again, because the

rain has already started," Savoeun said.

He maintains that government forces are digging in and are not retreating. "This

does not mean that we are retreating or stopping. No!" he exclaims. "We

have to strengthen our position."

While not giving a date, he vows to continue the fight. "We will launch another

offensive on Anlong Veng. We will not try to destroy Anlong Veng ... We are just

trying to [pincer] the soldiers in the area and slowly reduce the size of their army,"

he says. "We have to continually show them that we are strong enough."

The siege is not without human costs. Scores of government casualties have been inflicted

by improvised mines never encountered before. Wounded soldiers report that a common

device appears to be made by packing TNT or a fertilizer-gasoline mixture into bamboo

sections. Many are placed behind trees where soldiers take cover in fire-fights.

"I rushed to the tree trunk in order to protect myself from KR bullets and I

triggered a KR mine," said division 2 infantryman Phal Phourt of a skirmish

in Preah Vihear. "Seven of my comrades had already been injured by mines at

the beginning of the attack."

The wounded recall 'flying mines' whistling through the air during battles. They

claim that the devices travel up to 200 meters and are launched from wooden ramps

with batteries. Unlike artillery or mortars, there is no loud bang to let soldiers

know where they are coming from.

About 60 wounded soldiers have been sent to the military hospital in Phnom Penh since

February. Most of them were injured by the improvised mines, according to Dr Sao

Dara and patients.

Soldier Bun Thoeun, injured by an improvised mine, claims that there are about 100

injured at the front waiting for transport to Phnom Penh.

Dr Dara complains that the hospital lacks antibiotics, saying that the wounded are

receiving half of what they need. "There is no doubt that lacking medicine has

become a tradition of this hospital," he says. "It is not just happening

today, but has been going on for a long time."

Orders to stop advancing and reinforce the cordon have put a lid on speculation on

whether Ta Mok may flee to Laos if the stronghold is over-run. Pich Munyl claims

that the hardline leader had made contact with a mysterious rebel group operating

in southern Laos. "Ta Mok contacted 'Free Lao Movement' troops asking for a

place to let the KR stay, if he could not confront our government soldiers."

Savoeun does not deny that the rebel movement exists, but says that he is not sure

of Ta Mok's connection with it: "People say that Ta Mok has contact with the

'Free Lao Movement', but that is not an official report." He states that if

the speculation is true, the Movement will be another RCAF enemy.

Hun Sen acknowledged knowing about the Free Lao after returning from Laos on Apr

10. "I informed Laos that they are living on the Thai border and in Phnom Penh,

but not because of the government," he said. "It is the fault of some officials

in a political party that have done this, involving the sovereignty and integrity

of Laos."

Meanwhile, hopes for the lives of 15 negotiators held hostage in Anlong Veng since

Valentine's Day have all been but lost. Senior Funcinpec sources acknowledge they

believe most if not all of the hostages are dead.

"All of them have been killed except for three," Funcinpec general Nhek

Bun Chhay said Apr 29, echoing the statement of Siem Reap governor Toan Chay, who

has broken away from Funcinpec.

The negotiators, led by Chay's deputy, Hem Bun Heng, have been missing since they

flew into the Anlong Veng area for talks with senior KR representatives Feb 14.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen (CPP) has said the team is almost certainly dead, and

rounded on his Funcinpec counterpart Prince Norodom Ranariddh over the matter. Hun

Sen said the negotiator's mission was illegal and the person who ordered it should

be prosecuted.



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