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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge tries to crawl from the grave

Khmer Rouge tries to crawl from the grave

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CORNERED

An RCAF tank rumbles into Anlong Veng. With nowhere

to run, the KR may be willing to strike a deal.

TTHWARTED from recapturing their former capital of Anlong Veng, all that remains

of the Khmer Rouge - a bunch of diehards on a Khmer-Thai border mountain - are yet

again desperately attempting to mutate themselves into a more acceptable, new-look

movement.

"We have totally abandoned the old Khmer Rouge ideology," spokesman Non

Nou told reporters on the Thai border last week in a comment which echoed those of

other KR propagandists in recent years and months.

Amid the first signs that they were prepared to talk peace with the government, the

KR were quick to declare that the demise of Pol Pot represented the death of his

movement as well.

They also claimed that Ta ("Grandfather") Mok - the one-legged guerrilla

chief with a bloody history who had deposed Pol Pot last June - was no longer in

charge. Mok was said to have handed over command of his military forces to general

Khem Nguon, his chief-of-staff, while political control was supposedly given to Khieu

Samphan, the KR's nominal leader for years.

After apparent negotiations with the government failed - because Ta Mok's loyalists

demanded autonomy over Anlong Veng in return for their 'defections' - KR forces moved

to regroup under the banner of Funcinpec general Nhek Bun Chhay's anti-government

resistance.

In an indication of their desperation, none of the KR's publicity moves were new,

all having been tried before in recent history. "It has been almost one year

since we tried Pol Pot [in an Anlong Veng show trial last July] but since then the

international community has not accepted our movement," bemoaned Non Nou to

the Far Eastern Economic Review in an April 11 interview on the border.

Asking for food and medicine from foreign countries, Nou said the KR were prepared

to hand over Pol Pot to an international tribunal in return. Ta Mok - and Pol Pot

himself - was said to have agreed. Pol Pot's death (naturally or otherwise) four

days later quashed any hopes of that, but the KR's publicity and political machine

swung into action to make the most of it.

With few military options, the KR - knocked out of Anlong Veng toward the Thai border

after the defections of more than 1,000 guerrillas late last month - hinted that

it was prepared to strike a deal with the government.

Negotiations were held - whether directly or through intermediaries, most likely

Thai military officers - with Mok loyalists.

General Meas Sophea, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) deputy chief of staff,

said April 21 that the KR had demanded control of Anlong Veng, "as like Pailin",

and made other requests which he would not reveal. The government had refused.

"The government's principle is to still support the bringing of Ta Mok, Nuon

Chea and Khieu Samphan to an international court, and the lower-ranking cadre can

defect to us if they want," he said, adding that the RCAF preferred to stop

its offensives against Mok's forces and try to solicit defections instead.

Another military source said negotiations had been held with "Ta Nguon"

- presumably Khem Nguon - who is related to Mok by marriage. "That's why Mok

gave the military forces to Ta Nguon, they are related."

The whereabouts of Mok, Chea and Samphan remain uncertain, although virtually all

front-line RCAF commanders claim that they are in Thailand. Their guerrillas - which

RCAF officials estimate at only 200-300 - remain based just inside Cambodian territory

on so-called Mountain 200, about 20km north of Anlong Veng.

After recapturing Anlong Veng on April 2, the KR were pushed out of it by joint offensives

by RCAF and defectors within four days. At Post press time, the government appeared

in firm control of the area, despite ongoing rebel propaganda to the contrary - journalists

in Anlong Veng on the night of April 14 listened to KR radio broadcasts claiming

that they held the town.

The main front-line is still around Schras Chuk, about 5km north, which the government

claimed to have captured Apr 17. One armored personnel carrier, some small arms,

three trucks, two mobile sawmills and six big saws were seized from the fleeing KR,

according to general Pou Sabut Dy, RCAF deputy chief of operations for Siem Reap.

While most RCAF chiefs believed Mok was still ordering his troops, senior government

commander Pou Sabut Dy referred to internal disgruntlement within Mok's own forces.

"As I have heard from the frontlines... I think it was not a trick of Ta Mok

to hand over power to Ta Nguon - because Ta Mok has little territory and he is a

bad man, so nobody wants to follow him."

In the latest twist at Post press time, Mok's soldiers were said to have "defected"

to general Nhek Bun Chhay, who has led Funcinpec resistance forces from the Khmer-Thai

border enclave of O'Smach, about 60km west of Anlong Veng, since last July's fighting

in Phnom Penh.

Bun Chhay, speaking by telephone Apr 22, claimed that a massive 1,600 KR soldiers

"who hate Ta Mok" had defected to his resistance.

Bun Chhay strongly denied that he was joining the KR - "There's no way I would

join with the Khmer Rouge when they are nearly dead," he said - or that he would

allow senior rebels like Ta Mok, Ta Nguon and Khieu Samphan to join him.

In reply to questions, he said he would not abandon O'Smach but would also have the

Anlong Veng area as a base because "the people who have defected to my side

will control Anlong Veng".

It is unclear whether Bun Chhay may seek to include the KR guerrillas in any integration

of the renegade Funcinpec general's troops into the government army. Bun Chhay is

seeking a Royal pardon for himself, so he and his troops can join the government

again; being able to hand over the remnants of the KR may, some observers suggested,

give him added bargaining power.

In apparent three-way negotiations in recent days, sources on the Thai border report

that both Bun Chhay and one of his deputies, general Khan Savoeun, have visited Mok

loyalists near Anlong Veng, while Savoeun has also reportedly been in contact with

government officials.

Earlier, in an April 17 statement, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced

that he had authorized Savoeun to begin "open, not secret" consultations

with the government over a ceasefire and reintegration of the Funcinpec resistance

forces.

But contact between the KR and Bun Chhay's troops may be powerful political ammunition

against Ranariddh, who can be banned from elections if he is associated with any

armed insurgency.

Ranariddh, before the KR "defections" to Bun Chhay, had already distanced

himself from any cooperation between two resistance forces.

"I would like to reiterate that I do not have any cooperative relations with

the Khmer Rouge and the elements of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces loyal to me

do not have any military links or cooperation with the KR either," the Prince

wrote in his April 17 statement.

Ranariddh, now in Siem Reap visiting his father King Sihanouk, has repeatedly denied

government allegations that Bun Chhay's forces had sent weapons and soldiers to help

Ta Mok, and added: "If there are any troops from the RCAF participating in such

military operations, they are not RCAF troops loyal to me and thus I disassociate

from them."

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