K AMPOT - The three Western hostages approached 40 days in captivity as the Post went to press amid signs the affair was drawing to a climax.
Defectors from Khmer Rouge General Paet's Regiment 75 indicated that the guerrillas were begining to run low on food after supplies from villagers were cut by government forces.
There were also signs of stepped-up military activity by the RCAF around Phnom Vour, Kampot province where the hostages are being held. But government sources also said that it was prepared to pay a ransom.
In messages and videotapes brought out by intermediaries, Paet and the hostages have warned that negotiations are being stalled by government shelling.
The hostages spoke out on video footage shot on Aug 29 by themselves and their captors and obtained by Indochine Productions, an independent Phnom Penh-based TV news company.
The three hostages, Briton Mark Slater, 28, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 28, and Australian David Wilson, 29, though for the most part seemed to be reading from a prepared script.
Braquet, reading a statement in French, asked for the shelling to stop so negotiations could continue. Slater added "Could you please stop the bombardment of this area, it's just killing peasants."
Wilson continued: "We've been told to say this but basically it's true, the bombing is day in and day out, it's very frightening.
"We understood the deal was going down tomorrow, to pay the ransom, but we've heard because the bombing hasn't stopped [interruption], if the bombing doesn't stop there will never be a deal."
Slater said: "Please ask them to stop the bombings, the bombings must stop and then we can go home to our families." The hostages then showed foxholes they had dug and been using as shelter from the bombardment.
With the video footage there was also a letter containing a shopping list and another plea to end the barrage, apparently partly dictated by the Khmer Rouge and signed by the hostages.
The list contained items such as tobacco, coffee, chocolate, canned and dried food, clothing, vitamin C, paracetamol, toiletries plus 300 kg of rice.
Sam Ya, a government intermediary who has made several trips into the rebel camp said "The shelling scares them, some of the shells have landed 60 metres from the bunker, the shelling is every day, sometimes at night and it comes from different directions."
On the hostages' health Ya said "Paet does not want the hostages killed, if there is fighting he will move them. He knows the area very well. He can move them if he wants to, he wants the hostages alive."
Ya also confirmed there was several different negotiators going to the camp and offering different amount than the $115,000 which he says the the government has officially offered.
General Math Cheala who has moved his regiment from Treng on Route 10 in Battambang, to 10 km of Phnom Vour, confirms that the government is prepared to pay a ransom.
"The government is worried about the hostages and is asking the villagers to put pressure on the Khmer Rouge to exchange them [for the ransom] and is looking for a trusted negotiator.
"The government wants the exchange, [First Prime Minister] Prince Ranariddh says this is all the money we have [$115,000], we have no more money to give. We are now waiting for an answer, the government just wants to scare them, this is our first plan."
Cheala would not reveal the second plan but with him from Treng came several hundred seasoned troops with three 57mm field guns, mortars and two truckloads of ammunition.
He denied that his unit had specifically moved to the region because of the hostages. He said he was just setting up an army training school.
Cheala stated "We are here as a training battalion, and will only be used in emergency cases such as an evacuation of the hostages for instance."
General Paet may also have some other troubles on his hands. Khmer Rouge defectors in the last few days have said food and medicine is in short supply and morale is low.
Bon Samart, 36, a former government soldier who joined the Khmer Rouge in November 1993 defected back to the government side on Aug 19
He said: "They don't have any rice, we cannot buy food because we don't get paid, many have defected, maybe 40." On ammunition, Samart said: "They have enough bullets but not enough shells.
"I joined the Khmer Rouge because they attacked my village and burnt my house down, I was afraid they might come back to power."
Another defector Buy Kheang, 46, who defected on Aug 13 after two months and comes from another regiment told a similar story. "They are short on food and medicine. When you are sick they cannot treat you. I know of three other defectors from my regiment," Kheang said.
An officer at Noun Nat Chumah, Kampot province, where the defectors are being held, said: "We are stopping supply lines, they are now weaker. We welcome anyone that wishes to defect. They will not be punished."