ANLONG VENG - Through the window of the helicopter the government flag could be
seen flying on the top of a three-story concrete building in the heart of Anlong
Veng. It was the first solid evidence that the Khmer Rouge's northern
headquarters had indeed fallen.
As the Russian Mi-17 landed in a clearing
in the town center near the army's headquarters, a dozen or so walking wounded
soldiers rushed forwards to be evacuated.
The 20 journalists who
arrived, the first civilians in town since it was taken on Feb 5, were herded
into a press conference with Gen Long Sopheap, who masterminded the
He proudly told how hated Khmer Rouge military commander Ta
Mok had been forced to flee - minus his wooden leg.
"This is a great
victory for the national reconciliation policy of the government and of the
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces [RCAF]," Gen Sopheap said.
"This is also a
great victory of the international community which has helped us, because before
Ta Mok did not allow UNTAC to enter [Anlong Veng] and he wouldn't dare do so,"
Heavy tolls were recorded on both sides. Fifty government
soldiers were reported killed and 178 other were wounded, mostly by mines during
Government reports said 135 KR were killed and 149
wounded. Five guerrilla fighters were captured and thirteen, including a
general, defected to the royal army.
Outside the press conference,
soldiers were busy loading a truck with war booty stripped from houses, such as
furniture, plastic piping and pots and pans.
Much of value was left
behind by the KR families as they beat a hasty retreat.
When the press
corps appeared some officers realized this didn't make for such good publicity
material and ordered the truck out of sight.
"Why did you guys park the
truck here? Move it back to where it was. Get lost," they told the soldiers
The guides were more keen to show off the huge arsenal of
abandoned weapons they had captured and piled up near the command
The inventory included 645 guns, mostly carbines, mortars, 2,600
land mines and 102,000 rounds of ammunition. Most impressive was a sizable
artillery piece. Twenty-nine vehicles were also captured.
of the town were also far from hungry, with 1,100 tonnes of rice being
Many of the houses, some with surrounding banana plantations,
were destroyed by hammer blows from the government's assault. All that remained
of some was a skeleton of charred pillars with their corrugated iron roofs lying
on the ground.
Front-line officers reported 1,300 houses destroyed, but
also said that most were torched by the guerrillas themselves before they fled.
The elegant seat of Ta Mok took a direct hit from an artillery round and
was destroyed. Government rockets also pulled down a 40-metre radio antenna he
used to direct KR forces in the north of the country.
the press tour said they found an artificial leg belonging to Ta Mok in the
ruins. The limb was taken back on the helicopter on its way to the military
museum in Phnom Penh.
The affluent lifestyle apparent in Anlong Veng was
supported by on logging deals with Thai businessmen, who could easily truck
their illegal cargoes over the border lying just north of the town.
assault happened so suddenly that one group of Thai loggers said they bought a
consignment only to find it under new management.
Gen Sopheap said they
would be allowed to ship the logs if they paid for them a second time.
"No problem if they pay money, But we can not recognize how much money
Ta Mok received from them because he is outlawed. If they won't pay we will use
the logs to build houses for our officers," he said.
Unlike other remote
villages where drinkable water can be found only in wells, Ta Mok provided
townsfolk with drinking water from a huge purifying machine.
courtyard of his villa is now being used as shelter by government soldiers. They
tried to keep the place clean with graffiti written by charcoal "Take off
As the journalists toured around sporadic mortar shelling,
exchanges of gunfire and bomb explosions could still be heard.
Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay, who is also commander of the army's Region 4, said
that thousands of retreating KR had gone north and crossed the border to
But Gen Sopheap later said that they were refused entry by
Thai authorities and are now scattered in small groups near the provincial
border between Siem Reap and Preah Vihear.
He estimated that more than
30,000 people had been living in Anlong Veng and that 3,000 of them had gone to
Svay Leu, in Siem Reap province.
The families of KR fighters chose to
follow their men folk into the jungle and an appeal by government troops for
them to return home went unheeded, the general said.
The re-supply route
to Anlong Veng itself is seriously threatened by mines, and soldiers said that
during the assault they would sometimes dig out more than 200 anti-tank mines in
a one-km stretch of road.
Some 4,200 troops took part in the assault on
the KR stronghold and 1,500 of them remain to defend against possible
Their mood was relaxed after the sheer exhaustion and
stress of days of walking through mine fields to their final goal.
soldier was busy decorating his bunker with a Thai-made mattress he found in an
Others went fishing with mosquito-nets to get a change
of constant diet of dried fish the only rations they have received in addition
Private Mao Saret dressed only in black shorts, he emerged
soaked from a pond near Ta Mok's house with small fish he was going to cook for
"These are real fish I've never had for long time. I have eaten
only rice with salted fish," Saret complained.
"To make life safer we
have got to demine," Toan Chay said, adding "The Khmer Rouge are trying to
survive. But the best way for them to survive is to come and enjoy the
"I can say Ta Mok is 60 years old, the top leaders [of the KR]
are old and I wait, everybody wait and they wait too for them to die
peacefully," said the governor.