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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hostages' fate unknown, as Nuon Paet back on attack

Hostages' fate unknown, as Nuon Paet back on attack

KHMER Rouge General Nuon Paet, blamed for the Kampot hostage massacre, is trying

to get a foothold back in his former stronghold of Phnom Vour (Vine Mountain), according

to military police.

"The activity of the enemy is increasing," Major Phay Heng, chief of staff

of Kampot military police, said last week. "Paet is in charge."

While confusion reigns over the fate of the remaining hostages - and even how many

of them there are

- the only thing that authorities appear to be sure of is that more trouble is

likely. "They want to put their feet back into territory they lost before,"

Heng said of the KR.

Phnom Vour, formerly one of the KR's strongest bases, fell to a Cambodian army siege

in late 1994 following the kidnappings of three foreign tourists.

Paet is the subject of an arrest warrant for the murders of the three, seized from

a train and killed after being held for several months.

The tourists' countries, Britain, Australia and France, have demanded he be brought

to justice. Their ambassadors to Cambodia this week met with Foreign Minister Ung

Huot to reiterate their call for his capture.

Major Heng said that Paet's objectives were to cut Route 3 between Takeo and Kampot

- particularly a key bridge at Traeng, about 35km from Kampot town - and clear an

approach to the Phnom Vour mountain range. The KR general was believed to be in neighboring

Chhouk or Chumkiri districts, on the other side of Rt 3, Heng said.

On June 26, two units of KR launched attacks in Chhouk, while another group seized

six ox-carts from villagers. The ox-carts were later sighted, apparently carrying

weapons.

Heng said that, from massacre survivor Phouk Onn's description, authorities believed

that Paet had personally ordered last month's killing of 15 of the recent hostages.

Details are unclear about the whereabouts and number of remaining hostages, though

some have been released or escaped.

There are conflicting reports on how many hostages were originally taken - Onn believed

there were about 70, while Heng put the number at closer to 50.

"I suspect that the hostages and the Khmer Rouge have already got an arrangement

[for ransoms]," Heng said of the 20-30 he estimated were still being held. "Maybe

some hostages have been released to come down to the province to get ransoms, and

they hide this information from the authorities."

Heng said the hostages were first abducted in Chruos Som district and taken to the

Ksach Sar area, about 20km north of Kampot town. One or two sawmills were also burnt

by the guerrillas.

At least four people were freed to contact the family of Luy Meng, a lumber truck

owner among the hostages, and pass on a ransom demand.

"This information was never given to us by Luy Meng's family until he was dead.

The family sent [to another location] medicine, cigarettes, some beer, money - everything

that can support the Khmer Rouge in the jungle."

Meng's mother-in-law in Kampot denied to the Post that any ransom had been sought

or given.

Heng said he had heard that the ransom demand was for $20,000, but could not confirm

that amount was paid. He said he was mystified why Meng - as well as Phouk Onn and

13 other people - were singled out to be murdered despite a ransom being given.

Others sources, who say most of the dead appeared to be Meng's employees, suggest

the loggers had a deal with the KR which went sour.

There are also reports that a new group of guerrillas - wearing earrings such as

those worn by Khmer Loeu hill tribespeople - have been sent to Kampot as part of

renewed guerrilla action in the province.

Heng could not confirm KR reinforcements were sent following the end of dry-season

fighting in northwestern Cambodia, saying only that he believed the KR were intent

on regaining Phnom Vour.

Meanwhile, in a version of events previously unreported, Heng maintained that there

in fact two sets of kidnappings in Kampot last month.

The first was of 74 people from Stoeng Keo commune on June 13, two days before Phouk

Onn and others were taken, he said.

The 74 were forced to sharpen bamboo stakes and also received lectures from KR cadre

about the 1998 national election in Cambodia.

Asked what the villagers were told, Heng, appearing to choose his words carefully,

said: "The assessment of the Kampot provincial command is that they educated

people to vote for Sam Rainsy".

The Post was unable to travel to Stoeng Keo to confirm the information, which local

human rights groups said they were not aware of.

Heng said the 74 were offered their freedom two days after their abductions, and

all went back to their villages except for four teenagers who had apparently defected

to the KR. That same day, Phouk Onn and the second group of hostages were abducted.

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