K RALANH - Houses, schools and hospitals were burned down and 30,000 people driven out of their remote villages during Khmer Rouge attacks in Siem Riep province throughout November.
Eight of the ten communes in Kralanh district in western Siem Riep have been deserted, creating a fresh wave of refugees and provoking some of the first dry season battles between the rebels and the Royal Cambodian Army.
A total of 275 houses, schools and hospitals were torched by rebel guerrillas, who abducted, raped and killed villagers they accused of being "puppets".
Khun Thean, a 52-year-old from Kroch Kor commune, said seven people were killed including two school teachers he identified as Nguon Mun and Vong Leng.
"They killed two school teachers by slashing their throats. They accused them of having a high level of education and political tendencies as puppets," he said.
"It is painful for me to think about those teachers. I don't know what happened to their families because there is no one left back in the village."
Others who died included a woman who was raped and then shot, two local militia, and an old woman killed by a mortar explosion while hiding in a heap of hay.
Nuon Heng, a 45-year-old school teacher, was taken along with 89 other villagers to carry out hard labor in the jungle.
"They forced us to cut trees, harvest crop and sharpen spikes without giving us food. I thought it was the end of my life," he said.
He and six others managed to escape by saying they were going to search for wild potatoes.
"We decided to risk our lives. Fortunately, we made it and I'm still alive. But now I have to sleep under mango tree, because the KR burned down my house," he lamented.
Premier Norodom Ranariddh, who visited the refugees on Nov 23, was outraged by the KR atrocities and condemned the outlawed group for continuing to destabilize the country.
"Pol Pot hates yuon [Vietnamese], but kills Khmers and burns their houses. Pol Pot hates yuon, but disperses tourists and investors, who go to Vietnam," the premier said.
A Defense Ministry official said that the Khmer Rouge mobilized more than 200 fighters from 519, 518, 980 and 912 divisions to attack and cut off the link between Kralanh and Samrong districts along Route 68.
On Nov 18-19, the guerrillas occupied two villages in Rumdeng commune but were evicted by the Royal army in a counterattack.
The government air force used two Russian-made helicopters equipped with heavy machine guns to suppress the guerrillas' ability to respond, said the defense official.
"The operation was successful. The KR ran in disarray. Six of them were seen killed on the spot. The situation is now under our control," he said.
Bun Yoeun, an official of Kralanh district, quoted military sources as saying that about 40 guerrillas were injured and killed by the helicopters' strafing.
Meanwhile, 117 KR soldiers of 980 division recently defected from Kulen mountain, surrendering themselves and 67 weapons to Siem Reap provincial authorities.
One of them, division 980's deputy commander General It Sam - a KR veteran since 1971 - said: "The longer I join their cause, the more darkness and bloodshed I see. So, I decided to leave."
Speaking to the defectors on Nov 22, Prince Ranariddh praised them for making the right move. He gave Sam 100,000 riel, his deputies 50,000 riel and rank-and-file 20,000 riel as reward.
"You have made the right decision in responding to the King's appeal [for national reconciliation]," he said.