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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Attacks Threaten Rail Service

Attacks Threaten Rail Service

The run down engines and beat up carriages of the country's antiquated railway system

are in danger of grinding to a complete halt due to an ongoing series of Khmer Rouge

attacks, the director of the railway service said.

"If the Khmer Rouge keep on attacking us the railway will have to close,"

director Pich Kimsreang told the Post.

In July alone there were 16 guerrilla attacks on bridges, trains and tracks which

have stretched the outdated system to its limits, he said.

"If the Khmer Rouge keep on destroying the track we will not be able to repair

it, we are almost exhausted," he said.

"We don't have enough track left, we have used up all the old supplies,"

the director added.

The recent ferocious Khmer Rouge attack on the Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh train,

which claimed the lives of at least 10 people and left some 40 others wounded, was

the latest incident in the Khmer Rouge campaign against the railway service.

It was also the third attack since May along the stretch of track near Kampot.

Late last month Khmer Rouge guerrillas ambushed a train about 40 kilometers northeast

of Kampot leaving several people wounded by gunfire.

Other were injured jumping from the train to flee the scene before government troops

repelled the guerrillas.

Also near Kampot on the eve of the May U.N. organized elections, the Khmer Rouge

derailed the train from the port town to the capital and killed several people.

Late last month, the recalcitrant faction's guerrillas blew up a 100ft stretch of

track on the Battambang to Sisophon line.

It was the first time the guerrillas had attacked this section of the track, the

director said.

The guerrillas also recently blew up the track further south in the Mong Russei district

of Battambang province.

This area has been the scene of repeated attacks, the most serious in early May when

the Khmer Rouge blew up the track, derailed a train and opened fire with small arms

and rockets, killing 13 people and injuring many more before boarding the train and

robbing some 500 passengers.

U.N. spokesperson Susan Manual recently said that rail and road bridges were being

blown up at the rate of one every other day.

"I think this is the most difficult time for our railway," Pich Kimsreang

said. "The Khmer Rouge hurt us every day."

The railway system, he said, was attacked for maximum publicity. "The trains

are the top target because the railway carries more people. It shows there is no

security," he said, adding that blowing up the track was a relatively risk free

way to affect large numbers of people.

Pich Kimsreang said the service was in bad need of new engines, rolling stock and

track but he feared the international community would be reluctant to help while

the railway service was under constant attack.

Khmer Rouge ambushes on the railway service since the radical faction was ousted

from power by the Vietnamese in 1979 have left over 800 people dead, he said.

"They kill people like killing fish," he said.

Mines along the track have also been a constant threat.

The country's trains run with a flat-bed carriage out in front of the engine, in

order that the flat-bed, and not the engine, takes the full blast of any mine. However,

throngs of people, unable to afford a ticket, crowd the flat-beds and gamble on a

free ride.

It's a gamble for which many have paid dearly.

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