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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Army blank check undermines budget

Army blank check undermines budget

Army blank check undermines budget

A s the international community met to decide the fate of nearly $1 billion in

aid for Cambodia, the Post has learned the military has undermined the national

budget to fund further offensives against the Khmer Rouge.

One senior

government official said: "We have been ordered to give the military a blank

check.

"This could ruin our budget and jeopardize aid from the donor

countries."

The move follows a failure by the government to win new

international military assistance to purchase sorely-needed ammunition and other

supplies for offensives against the KR headquarters at Pailin and Anlong Veng,

which the government lost again to the KR on Feb 24.

The new money which

will be poured into the the military's coffers is over and above the 28 percent

of total government expenditure they got in the carefully constructed budget

passed in January.

The budget was to be presented to the International

Conference on Reconstruction of Cambodia (ICORC) in Tokyo as an indication of

the new government's willingness to set priorities which will contribute to

national development.

International lending institutions and donor

countries are closely monitoring the government's fiscal performance and any

effort to redirect money from the state treasury towards military expenditures

is likely to cause alarm.

The international community is already

skeptical that the government can be trusted to use international assistance as

it is pledged. ICORC is considering the release of nearly $1 billion in pledges

from donor countries.

Internally, redirecting cash away from other

ministries to the military is likely to have major repercussions on the

hard-pressed coalition government.

After two months of heavy fighting

that has left hundreds dead and millions of scarce dollars spent on war

preparations, the military balance of power remains the same and the country is

no closer to a political or military solution to its conflict.

After

capturing areas around the Khmer Rouge northern headquarters of Anlong Veng in

early February, government forces lost the area on Feb 24 to a Khmer Rouge

counterattack.

Major new preparations for government offensives in the

far north and against the Khmer Rouge western headquarters around Pailin are

again underway. More than 5,000 government forces are assembled to retake areas

around Anlong Veng and 7,000 troops have been deployed in Battambang. Many of

these troops, which include 3,000 interior ministry police sent to Battambang,

have been imported from other provinces.

But many field level commanders

and western military analysts say that the government plans make little military

sense and are destined to fail. They cite lack of ammunition to undertake and

sustain such large scale offensives, poor training and morale of government

soldiers, and the inherent difficulties of doing significant damage to the

guerrilla structure of the Khmer Rouge.

Analysts also point to major

problems within the ranks of the government military. These include tension

between Cambodian People's Party troops and their former enemies from the

Func-inpec and KPNLF, low pay, lack of food supplies, little access to medicine,

poor communications, and dangerous supply lines. These add up to poor morale and

the lack of fight in the rank and file, they say.

As the government

forces prepared to launch the new offensives, King Sihanouk issued a March 7

declaration from Beijing calling for an immediate ceasefire.

"Since the

beginning until today, the war between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the

National Army of Democratic Kampuchea has not brought any good results or

benefits to our motherland at all," King Sihanouk said," On the contrary, it has

brought only destruction, suffering, pain, shame and desperation for Cambodia,

the nation, and especially for our poor innocent people.

" In my capacity

as father of the nation and Samdech Euv of the entire Cambodian people, both men

and women in all political parties, I would like to appeal to the Royal

government and it's RCAF and the DK and it's NADK to agree to an immediate,

general truce at all fronts throughout Cambodia."

While the government

claimed a decisive military victory at Anlong Veng in early February, evidence

emerged that the battle was fraught with difficulties and large unreported

casualties.

The government's official figures were less than 50 dead in

the six-week campaign until the capture of Anlong Veng, senior military

officials and diplomats privately acknowledge more than 200 government soldiers

killed and 500 wounded. At least four generals were killed. Six tanks were

destroyed.

There were reports of commanders executing soldiers at the

front because they refused to fight, and diplomats confirmed other reports of

commanders fleeing the battlefield against orders from their superiors.

Many senior government commanders were known to be opposed to the

offensive, contending it would be militarily unsound. But they were overruled by

their Phnom Penh based commanders and political leadership.

"Morale is

low, there is not enough food, not enough ammo, no medicine. The soldiers don't

want to do anything. That is the reason the KR took it [Anlong Veng] back," said

one western diplomat.

"They should stop the fighting and reorganize their

own areas and troops to defend what they have. After what happened in the last

weeks, in the rainy season forget it. They can't hold it. Many people are going

to get killed for nothing," he said.

Many diplomats and military analysts

complained that the government had launched a propaganda offensive designed to

mislead the international community of events on the battlefront.

Senior

government officials repeatedly claimed that Anlong Veng had fallen to the

government in January, contentions that were later known to be false. Some

remain skeptical that the base where journalists and military attaches were

taken by helicopter in mid February was the main headquarters of the Khmer Rouge

commander Ta Mok, as claimed.

Some government military officials and

foreign analysts say that the base was indeed a Khmer Rouge Division commander's

headquarters located seven km to the south of Ta Mok's main base.

The

Division commander, some sources claim, was Pich Chheam, the former Khmer Rouge

ambassador to Beijing. Cheam was ambassador to Beijing in 1975, and many former

Khmer Rouge supporters blame him for the hundreds of Khmer intellectuals who

were encouraged to return to Cambodia in 1975, only to be arrested at Pochentong

airport on arrival and taken away to be executed.

Photo albums of Chheam

and his family with senior Khmer Rouge officials and other portraits of life in

the jungle and Beijing were found in the main house that government commanders

said was Ta Mok's headquarters.

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