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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Army reels from KR offensive

Army reels from KR offensive

A DRASTIC increase in fighting between government army units and Khmer Rouge

guerrillas has caused UN staff to pull out of the strategic northwest town of

Sisophon, an aid official said on April 30.

"Sisophon was rocketed last

night," said aid officials in Sisophon. "We believe they were 107 mm

rockets."

Government officials meanwhile confirmed on April 30 the Khmer

Rouge now controlled Treng, a town 50 km southwest of Battambang. It was used a

base by government troops and as the launching pad for the ill-fated assault on

Pailin.

They added that Route 5, the main artery between Sisophon and the

border town of Poipet, had also been severed by the KR.

Aid officials

said thousands of refugees from far-flung hamlets were pouring into Sisophon in

search of safety.

Reliable sources in the northwest told said that the

border town of Poipet was attacked overnight on April 30 by Khmer Rouge soldiers

on foot.

Khmer Rouge guerrillas interviewed near Poipet said their

superiors had ordered them to retake the northwestern towns of Poipet an

Sisophon within one month.

 

Over the past forthnight, the Maoist-inspired rebels have significantly

increased attacks against government positions stretching from Treng in the west

to far-north Choam Khsan.

A 400-strong rebel force was seen only 25 km

from the capital Phnom Penh, UN military sources said, citing government

intelligence reports on April 29.

The reports said a rebel force had

been sighted near hamlets of Phum Trapeang, Phum Totoeung and Phum Prek,

northwest of the capital.

Confirming the re deployment of UN aid staff

from Sisophon, the World Food Programme's (WFP) Country Director Scott Leiper

said: "It's more precautionary at this stage."

He said the withdrawal of

foreign staff was in response to KR threats to capture Sisophon, a strategic

junction town located 350 km northwest of Phnom Penh. One expatriate WFP

official would remain there, he added.

A senior government official said

Treng was taken by the Khmer Rouge after heavy fighting and artillery

bombardments.

"The Khmer Rouge took Treng on April 28 and the government

troops now are based at Sdao [38 km south of Battambang]," Serey Kosal, Deputy

Governor of Battambang said.

The Khmer Rouge onApril 28 said they

captured Treng.

"At 6.30 pm, after an all-day fight which started at 6

am, we completely destroyed and liberated the headquarters of Division Four at

Treng," said the Khmer Rouge in a statement.

Treng was the major

logistics base for the recent government attack on the Khmer Rouge's

headquarters in Pailin.

The Khmer Rouge claimed to have captured a

comprehensive range of government military equipment including four twin-barrel

37 mm anti-aircraft guns, six 76 mm field guns, and an assortment of rifles and

infantry support weapons.

Leiper said at least 27,000 Cambodian civilians

had been displaced by fighting around Treng commune 50 km south of

Battambang.

The link between Sisophon and the Thai border, Route 5, has

become a shooting range for Khmer Rouge guerrillas where they can harass

government military movements.

"As far as we know Route Five to Poipet is

occupied by elements of [Khmer Rouge] 450 Division dug in south of the road near

Nimit - two km west," said a senior aid official who asked not to be

named.

"It's extremely dangerous along that road for anybody."

The

official warned Poipet might be cut off if a northern-based KR force came south

to link up with 450 Division.

"If 519 Division can push elements down

from the north then they'll have Poipet cut-off and it might fall," he

said.

Another senior foreign aid official said the security situation in

the northwest continued to deteriorate.

"Most of these little bushfire

attacks are being carried out very effectively by small numbers of Khmer Rouge

who are very mobile," he said.

He said the Khmer Rouge were using

classic guerrilla tactics by "choosing their own time, place and method of

attack". The Government army could only react, said the official, who asked not

to be named.

Leiper said about 10,000 refugees had been displaced by

recent fighting in the northwest and had moved into Sisophon.

WFP had

mounted a "rescue mission" to bring to safety 1,000 Cambodians who earlier has

crossed into Thailand and been repatriated into unsafe areas, he

said.

"We picked 500 up on Thursday and 500 yesterday. We brought them

safety to Sisophon reception centre," he said, adding that the convoy had passed

through Bantey Chmar and Thmar Puok, which still were in government

hands.

He likened the current situation in Cambodia to 1989 when the then

Hun Sen-led government was fighting a multi-prong offensive by the Khmer Rouge

and its non-communist allies.

"If the round table talks are put off or

canceled, the security situation in the country will be exacerbated - bloodshed

and civil war will continue throughout the country," Police Lieutenant-General

Por Vannak said.

General Vannak said, he was preoccupied organizing a

"defensive belt" in Battambang province.

A key government base at Sakream

in north-central Kompong Thom province had fallen to the Khmer Rouge, one

government official said.

The KR are blamed for the death of one million

Cambodians during a 3 1/2 year reign of terror in the 1970s.

- Reuters

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