BOH THOM, Kompong Thom Province-Three days after the U.N. announced that the State
of Cambodia (SOC) had launched a "coordinated military offensive" against
the Khmer Rouge in five provinces, the only significant engagement that could be
seen in this sleepy village 45 kilometers northwest of Kompong Thom city was a volleyball
match between mixed teams of Khmer Rouge soldiers and those loyal to Prince Ranariddh's
However, the local sense of calm-in an area just 12 kilometers from the headquarters
of KR division 616-belied the fact that major fighting had taken place in Kompong
Thom province in the previous week involving more than 1,000 troops of the Cambodian
People's Armed Forces (CPAF) and an untold number of Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
"There was hand-to-hand fighting in Kandal Thmei this morning," said one
U.N. observer in Boh Thom on Feb. 4, referring to a village several kilometers to
the south. "But things seem to have quieted down now."
U.N. observers in Kompong Thom report that the CPAF offensive started on Jan. 27.
"CPAF and the Khmer Rouge had a major battle in the last few days," said
one observer on Feb. 3. "CPAF has advanced north and northwest in Kompong Thom
province, trying to regain lands lost since the Paris Peace Accords. They seem to
be well-equipped with a variety of artillery and small arms."
UNTAC reported that CPAF was using Soviet-made BM-14 and BM-21 multiple-rocket launchers
and that as many as 1,000 rounds of both rocket and artillery fire had been exchanged
between the two forces over a three-day period. The rocket launchers, known in military
parlance as "Stalin's organs," are capable of completely devastating a
square kilometer of territory in short order. One journalist familiar with the weapon's
capabilities said that "it was every soldier's worst nightmare to be on the
receiving end of those things."
"CPAF is using standard military tactics," the observer added. "They
start with an artillery barrage and then move in with ground troops. We don't know
their full objectives, but it would appear that they will succeed."
Colonel Nang Sar, CPAF's deputy military commander for Kompong Thom province accused
the U.N. of turning a blind eye to the situation leading up to the current military
engagements in the area. "When the Khmer Rouge attacked us no one said anything,
but now that we are retaliating UNTAC accuses us of cease-fire violations,"
Sar told the Post.
According to Col. Sar, since the signing of the Peace Accords the Khmer Rouge had
gained control of the villages of Damrei Slap, Nipech and Toul Kreul. "I want
to refer you to the article in the Paris Peace Accords that every faction must stay
in place," Col. Sar said, "but afterwards we have lost territory (to the
Khmer Rouge Major Chhum Chea, commander of the 51st regiment, told journalists in
Boh Thom on Feb. 4 that, "In recent weeks we have been under attack by the Vietnamese
and Hun Sen. We hope that UNTAC can find justice for us."
Chea added that, "The three factions want UNTAC to expel the Vietnamese from
Cambodia and then there won't be war anymore. Maj. Chea then said that before the
Paris accords there were 2 million Vietnamese in Cambodia but since then more than
1.5 million had entered the country including an additional 150,000 Vietnamese soldiers."
He added, "I know the Vietnamese are here but I can't get close to them."
Khmer Rouge cadres in the village, whose world view has been limited by decades of
life in the jungle, echoed Maj. Chea's remarks. One soldier said, "I left my
family 20 years ago and have been fighting the Vietnamese for the last 13 years.
If we can expel the Vietnamese (from Cambodia) there will be peace and then I don't
care who will be president or King."
No exact figures on the number of casualties were available but three wards at the
Kompong Thom city hospital were practically overflowing with both CPAF soldiers and
civilians wounded in recent fighting. Of thirteen wound-ed soldiers in one ward,
five had lost legs.
Col. Sar said that four CPAF soldiers had been killed in the fighting and another
10 were wounded, although since he had just received the information he did not have
any details on where these casualties had taken place.
Hundreds of families were displaced by the fighting. On Route 6 near Phum Sankor,
25 kilometers west of Kompong Thom, the Indonesian battalion reported that more than
3,000 refugees were in need of assistance, having fled fighting around the village
of Kandal Thmei to the north. Another 150 civilians sought sanctuary in Popok after
CPAF shelled the Khmer Rouge-controlled town of Khvav in Siem Reap province, a day's
walk away. By Feb. 4 they had returned home.
UNTAC reports that major fighting seems to have levelled off and that "occasional
exchanges of artillery" are taking place sporadically. There are rumors that
the Khmer Rouge will initiate a counter-offensive sometime in mid-February.