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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt, KR jockey for political power

Govt, KR jockey for political power

Battlefield strategies tied to peace talks' goals

SIEM REAP - Cambodian government forces are trying to launch a

major military offensive against the Khmer Rouge (KR) to bolster their leverage

during peace negotiations to include the guerrilla faction in the

government.

Military activity throughout the north and west has increased

since the new year as the sides gear up for what could be some of the heaviest

fighting since the Vietnamese withdrawal in late l989.

But the government

has been forced to postpone a major push against KR strongholds at Pailin and

Anlung Veng because of a lack of ammunition and difficulties in adequately

preparing field operations.

KR, government and diplomatic sources agree

that the government hopes to concentrate initially on a major assault on Anlung

Veng, the northern headquarters of the guerrilla faction under the command of

Gen. Ta Mok.

The assault on Pailin has been put on hold for fears they

would not be able to successfully capture the KR stronghold without more

ammunition.

"There is no panic. They are going on with their plans for

the offensive as normal," said a western military source. "They are waiting for

the ammunition and when they get it they will attack Anlung Veng. For Pailin,

they decided to cancel their plans for the moment, they don't speak about Pailin

anymore."

Both sides acknowledge the imminent fighting is a test of

strength that is designed to influence the leverage each seeks during peace

talks over how to include the KR in the government and the army.

While a

"technical committee" has been established with representatives of both the

government and the KR to hammer out details on integration of the guerrillas

into the government and the army, both sides agree the committee will be

effectively dormant as fighting escalates in coming months.

But both

sides see the military push - expected to begin this month - as designed to gain

political advantage and neither side contends that the offensive, no matter how

successful, could wipe out the KR as a military force.

What is clear is

that peace has been postponed for at least another dry season in Cambodia and

war is seen as inevitable, by both sides, to achieve their longer term political

objectives.

For the KR, this means a desire for a maximum power sharing

role in the new government and the army. For the government the objective is to

weaken the guerrilla faction to be in a position to give up less at the

negotiating table.

"No negotiation is successful at the negotiating table

alone," one KR official said. "What we get depends on the fighting. Of course we

want the maximum but it depends if we can defend ourselves."

KR sources

acknowledge they may be able to hold Pailin or Anlung Veng in the face of a

well-organized and equipped government attack.

"They will fight, we will

defend the territory but not at any cost. We may lose some areas during the dry

season but we will take it back in the rainy season. At the end we will come out

on top. If they want to try, let them try," he said.

Initially, the

government demanded the KR agree to three points before being given a role in

the new government: an immediate cease-fire; the dismantling of their armed

forces; and turning their territory over to the national government.

They said the KR must agree to an immediate cease-fire before other

issues can be discussed.

The KR have rejected this, saying all the issues

should be addressed simultaneously. They favor a five point plan proposed by

King Sihanouk on Jan. 1.

The plan contains the three government

requirements listed above but proposes simultaneously giving senior government

posts to the KR as well as proposing talks to settle all these issues.

In a press release dated Jan. 6, KR President Khieu Samphan said it was

clear what was required. The KR had to give the government what the government

wanted and the government had to give the KR what the KR wanted.

Khieu

Samphan said the five point guidelines could not be separated and although they

made national reconciliation possible, the nature of their fulfillment went

against this possibility.

"If one side insists only on the three points,

then the two other points cannot be fulfilled. By the same token, if the DKP

(KR) demands only the two points for itself then the three points cannot be

fulfilled either. In so doing, the five point guideline cannot be materialized,"

he said.

He referred to the three points as being "set by the Vietnamese

communists and the Phnom Penh party."

"The three points....are the

opposite to the five point guidelines of His Majesty the King," said Khieu

Samphan. "The former are a scheme aimed at continuing war in Cambodia while the

five points would lead to national reconciliation."

He believed the King

was sincere in his five point offer but, said Khieu Samphan, "the Vietnamese

communists and the Phnom Penh party have been resorting to all sorts of

maneuvers and pressures to ensure that only the three points be singled out, the

aim of which is to dismantle the DKP according to their dark and devil

scheme."

However, Prime Minister Ranariddh, in a Jan. 10 statement, said

the KR were "not sincere in their so-called desires for peace and national

reconstruction." Ranariddh noted, moreover that he had made clear in his Dec.

28, 1993 letter to Khieu Samphan that the Royal Government "accepts the five

point (plan) proposed" by King Sihanouk.

The prime minister added that

the simple test of the KR's lack of sincerity was that they were refusing to

recognize the Royal Government while insisting at the same time to become

members or advisors in the very same government.

Senior government and

diplomatic sources say government officials have officially requested military

aid from China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and North

Korea but have come up mostly empty-handed.

Russia is said to have given

ten million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and small token contributions from

Malaysia and Singapore may have been acquired. China may also provide some

equipment.

"We want to start now on Anlung Veng but we are waiting for

ammunition. We don't have enough, we hope we will have ammo in a few short

days," said Gen. Tuon Chhay in an interview on Jan. 7.

He is the governor

of Siem Reap province and military commander of the 4th Military Region which is

in charge of the key provinces of Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and

parts of Oddar Meanchey.

It is here that KR commander Ta Mok, in control

of 12 Divisions, has his headquarters. He is said to control at least 3000

regular troops, plus militia and until recently was based at Anlung

Veng.

Government forces claim to have 16,000 men under arms in military

region four.

Gen. Toan Chhay outlined the strategy of the two sides in

the coming weeks: "As a whole, the KR know we are about to launch the operation

against Anlung Veng for our self-defense. In the meantime they want to occupy

and capture the district at Choam Ksan in Preah Vihear to set up a bridge from a

new headquarters near the tri-border area.

"Once they capture Choam

Ksan, they will launch to capture the whole of Preah Vihear ... We want to

attack Anlung Veng so that they will withdraw their troops, to draw them away

from Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and Kompong Thom to defend Anlung

Veng. If we leave Anlung Veng intact they will send their front-line further,"

he said.

In Battambang province, the other major military theater,

commanders spoke of similar problems.

At the government Division 12

headquarters located along Route 5 near the Thai border, troops engaged in heavy

clashes after attacking KR positions along Phnom Malai, north of Pailin. More

than 100 people were killed or wounded in the first five days of the month,

according to commanders.

"We do not have enough ammunition. They said,

maybe we will get more this week," said Gen. Em Saray, deputy commander of the

12th Division.

"Our objective is to destroy the 450 Division but it

depends on the weapons supply. Plans for the attack on Pailin are not clear yet.

The general staff in Phnom Penh has not given us a clear decision

yet."

The first week of January also saw significant fighting in the area

between Samrong and the Thai border in northern Oddar Mean-chey province.

KR forces captured the former FUNCINPEC military base at Koam Chong and

burned at least nine villages long under FUNCINPEC influence. Government forces

recaptured the base but the "situation is not calm and remains unclear," said

Gen Toan Chhay.

However, both government and KR sources say the fighting

in this area reflects ongoing local anger over the government attack and capture

of the KR base at Phuum Chhat last August. It is not part of the current,

centrally coordinated government offensive.

"It was a big mistake of the

government to attack Phuum Chhat," said a senior government military official

who asked to remain anonymous. "It made the local people very angry, not just

the KR but the villagers."

Phuum Chhat was the headquarters for KR

Division 519 and served as a civilian base for diplomatic and other personnel

and their families.

Perhaps the most important battle theater may be in

Preah Vihear province, which both government and KR sources say will be a focus

of fighting.

Ta Mok has established a new headquarters north of the

border district of Choam Ksan, after abandoning Anlung Veng in preparation of

the expected government assault.

In an interview on Jan. 7, Preah Vihear

governor and military commander Gen. Mean Sarin said his province was under

daily attack by the KR. He said 500-600 KR have surrounded Choam Ksan, cut all

roads and are "attacking us every day."

He said the morale of the KR

troops was strong and they were well armed. KR reinforcements had been brought

from Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear to participate in the

assault.

"The KR really want to fight because they believe in their

leaders. They are not new, but the old cadre," said Gen. Mean Sarin.

He

said 300 KR had defected in his area but they were mainly recruits from the

1980s.

"The defections reflect their desire for peace. The old cadre are

waiting for orders. Those that have been with the KR since 1970 are sticking to

the position that the winner of the election should take control of the

government according to international standards," said the general.

"They

say that the KR should get 20 percent of the army, FUNCINPEC 20 percent, CPP 20

percent and the KP 20 percent while 20 percent should be divided among civilian

administration and state bureaucracy," he added.

Preah Vihear is

effectively cut off from government access by land, and 300 government soldiers

are currently trying to open up Route 12 from Kompong Thom to Choam

Ksan.

Equipped with bulldozers, a single mine detector and earth moving

equipment, the troops are clearing 36 kilometers of heavily mined road that

military commanders say must be opened within a month to save Preah Vihear from

KR capture

Gen. Toan Chhay said: "We are trying to repair Route 12,

otherwise we cannot save Preah Vihear. Our main objective is to defend Choam

Ksan and Preah Vihear, not to capture Anlung Veng.'

Gen. Mean Sarin said

he has 1,970 soldiers in Preah Vihear but currently they are lacking food,

ammunition, medical supplies and other necessities.

Government officials

say the morale of KR troops remains high in the north.

Gen. Toan Chhay

said: "Morale of their troops is still very good. They are united to defend

themselves. If they are not united they will die together. In the field they are

willing to achieve the orders from their commanders."

"The KR are very

confident," he said. "They are launching a political campaign designed to hang

the government by the throat economically. They count only on their forces and

finally no one loses, no ones wins. The suffering falls on the whole

country."

"For us to lose is very easy, to win very difficult and to

maintain victory, even more difficult," said the general.

While both

sides agree the outcome of the fighting will be crucial to what is finally

decided at the political negotiating table, it is not likely to deal a mortal

blow to the KR militarily.

The KR are prepared to give up fixed bases and

have made contingencies to revert to guerrilla tactics if they lose their main

rear sanctuaries.

But more importantly, many analysts say the KR threat

remains primarily a political one. Military assaults can only disperse them into

large tracts of jungles and remote villages that are virtually impossible for

the government to bring under central control by force.

"Our military

attacks are important as a demonstration of strength," said Gen. Toan Chhay.

"But it is not as important as economic development. We can spend millions of

dollars on tanks and artillery to kill ten KR. Why?"

More alarming to

many officials in the government controlled provinces and other observers, is

the deteriorating security because of crime, widespread corruption by military

and local officials, and the difficulty in implementing rural economic

development to improve the lives of the peasantry.

They say the people

had unrealistic expectations for change after the UN operation in Cambodia and

the government conduct so far has done little to engender faith that things will

improve soon.

It is the KR who will reap the political benefit of

continuing popular frustration, they say.

A KR official said:

"Politically and in terms of morale, they (the government) have no forces in the

country side."

"If we didn't have popular strength, they wouldn't even

give us the time of day. But if we are weak militarily, we will never get

anything at the negotiating table. But this is not about the military it is

about politics.

Despite KR confidence that they can withstand a

government assault, people everywhere are afraid of what the faction really

wants and hatred runs deep for the killings and suffering during the KR years in

power.

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