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Comment: Khmer Rouge strategy of stealth

Chunn Vireak calls for a more comprehensive plan to deal with the guerrillas.

As the Cambodian conflict goes on, Khmer Rouge attacks have little effect in military context, but their total effect, as everyone percieves it, could cost Cambodia's survival as a state.

The intensity of this conflict may appear to be relatively low but clearly its consequences are very serious. Really it is not a disagreement or an altercation or a fight but a war. So judging it to be low intensity or to be any other thing other then its due name, is probably fatal for us.

Firstly, an overall and thorough review of KR strategy clearly shows from the outset that its true aim is to return to power (absolute or shared) on its own terms.

Secondly, the tactical arrangements of the KR strategy have led everybody to fail to appreciate the actual practice of war being fought by them, which is fatal in the long run. So let's specifically look at the type of warfare being fought by the KR against the Royal Government.

At a glance the social, political, and economic conditions in Cambodia are such that the Khmer Rouge can exploit them effectively, although they have no more real appeal to the public then they did during the 1970-1975 war against the Lon Nol regime.

The KR strategy, similar to Chinese communist strategy during the initial stage of its revolution, is devised from social insecurity especially in the rural areas.

The fact that the KR's estimated military strength is something less than 30,000 does not necessarily mean that the KR is not able to recruit more nor that it is not capable of providing supplies for a bigger army.

But the KR need only a limited number of their troops to carry arms due to the fact that the conflict fought by them is more of a political, economic amd psychological rather than military nature.

More importantly the central goal of KR strategy is not to escalate the war to the point that gives the impression to the public that the KR will win final victory by military means, which is politically unjustifiable both at home and abroad.

The KR's standard tactics, which it seems to me are probably misunderstood by most observers, are to bluff militarily everywhere possible. And in fact the KR campaign plan does not aim at gaining military ground. What they really want is to give themselves the time and opportunity to carry out their social strategy.

Power in terms of KR current strategy is their ability to take over normal functions of the Royal Government in the countryside.

KR political and organizational work is said to be directed by Nuon Chea, Brother No. 2, who began this task in 1986. The KR mix the social, political and economic fronts in the same package.

However the master tactics in KR warfare are not to confront the government on every front but to position themselves in order to manipulate the whole situation more and more to their advantage.

On the economic front, the fact that the government continues not to be able to control domestic politics together with some tension with more powerful neighboring countries has cost the country millions of dollars of possible foreign investment. More importantly, the KR has tried to strangle Cambodia with negative international press coverage.

In sum, the KR is not fighting a war, as we know it, but rather they are running a war in a way directed to achieve an intended political end. The intended consequence of the KR's current strategy is the undermining of moral and social order among the rural population.

One may see that the immediate political goal of the KR is to establish roots for their self-declared government.

Clearly the Khmer Rouge need to "create" legitimacy (real or imagined) for their own group at least to convince their rank and file to believe so, given the fact that their group plans to challenge the Royal Government in the future. Recently the KR proposed to the King that their group be made legal again. By this move the Khmer Rouge have something definite in mind. In fact they already declared their own "outlawed" government even if the National Assembly happens to make their group legal.

In the long run it may become a defacto legal government if the Royal Government continue not to be able to solve the KR problem. Again if the National Assembly reverses its previous bill and makes the KR group legal it means that for the first time the KR has been made legitimate under the framework of the legal Cambodian state helped set up by the United Nations, while the Khmer Rouge continue to refuse to recognize the Royal Government. This would represent a severe setback of government policy and ability to deal with the Khmer Rouge problem in the future.

After the confusion resulting from the coup bid, the situation in the government camp now is somewhat better. But poor economic performance and structural reform are the most pressing problems.

The government has to be extremely careful in handling these, let alone the KR problem. On dealing with the guerrillas, so far the government has been preoccupied with the startegy of using military power effectively. These efforts will be in vain unless the nation is already socially and politically stable. So far the government seems to have taken for granted the actual practice of war fought by the KR. To deal with KR strategy one can not be unimaginative and inflexible.

The government should prepare a concerted plan of action, coordinating civilian and military efforts and involving all kinds of social resources.

To meet the Khmer Rouge on social and political fronts one should understand best the situation in each area and define what, how and when something is to be done in each particular area. Only if to get local elements in each particular area to actively implement the government plan can the plan itself have a fair chance of success.



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