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Chopper pilots released by KR

FOUR survivors of an ill-fated mission to negotiate with Khmer Rouge guerrillas said

on July 30 the rebels had executed the negotiating team and held the survivors prisoner

in a wooden cell for almost five months.

The four were the crew of a government helicopter that flew into Khmer Rouge territory

in northern Cambodia on February 14.

After the helicopter landed near the rebels' Anlong Veng base, Khmer Rouge soldiers

welcomed the 11-member negotiating team and led them away into nearby forest while

the four crewmen waited with their helicopter.

Seconds later bursts of gunfire erupted from the bush as the negotiating team was

cut down, the survivors said.

"Guns opened fire everywhere in the forest," the pilot of the helicopter,

Lieutenant Colonel Horn Sophal, told a news conference.

"I later saw five or six bodies lying on the ground, they were people from our

group," he said.

Among those slaughtered in the forest were the deputy governor of Siem Reap province

Hem Bunheng, senior Defense Ministry official General Phuong Bunphoen, and divisional

commander Colonel Sochan Hang.

Their mission was organized by First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh. It drew sharp

criticism from rival co-premier Hun Sen, who said he had never been informed of the

negotiation effort.

Members of Ranariddh's party said at the time that the team was trying to convince

feared Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok to defect to the government.

The four survivors of the negotiating mission said they were kept in a wooden cell

near Anlong Veng and chained at night for the first 12 days of their captivity.

Later they were not chained, but they were never allowed out of their cell and all

four of them came down with malaria, they said.

"When we were in prison we never thought we had a hope of seeing our families

again," Horn Sophal said. "We are lucky we are still alive."

They said they were not beaten or tortured and were fed twice a day.

They said they saw no Khmer Rouge commanders or any other prisoners during their

captivity.

They said they met General Nhek Bun Chhay, Ranariddh's top military commander, on

June 13. Nhek Bun Chhay led negotiations with the rebels after the failure of the

February mission.

The four said they were released on July 6 without explanation and traveled through

nearby Thailand back to Cambodian government territory.

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