Som Peng mourns his son, slain soldier Lam Eng
An attack against a remote military outpost in the Chlong District of Kratie Province
that resulted in the death of one RCAF soldier is being blamed on a group of gunmen
that describe themselves as members of the "Khmer Serei" (Free Khmer) movement.
According to Kratie military officials, an RCAF base in the village of Phum Kroik,
twenty kilometers north of Chlong village, was attacked in the early hours of Nov.
3 by approximately 60 gunmen.
Twenty-two year old RCAF soldier Lam Eng was killed in the attack, while eight other
RCAF personnel escaped without returning fire.
"The attack was designed to get weapons," an unidentified soldier at Chlong
District Military Headquarters told the Post. "Those [attackers] are angry at
the government. ... They don't like how the country is being run."
The district's military commander, Colonel Chei Cheng Bran, confirmed that the intent
of the attack was to acquire RCAF uniforms and ammunition.
Bran refused to refer to the attackers as bandits, the term usually employed to identify
renegade soldiers and recalcitrant Khmer Rouge units that have refused reintegration
with RCAF, initially describing them only as "the enemy".
"They're the enemy," Bran said of the attackers. "It's natural for
the enemy to want to attack us."
When pressed, however, Bran described the attackers as former Khmer Rouge who have
christened themselves the Khmer Serei (Free Khmer).
"I've heard this group recently had a meeting in a remote district [of Kratie]
and announced that they were the Khmer Serei," Bran said.
However, Bran expressed his skepticism about any political agenda behind the name
"From 1983-1998 this group were Khmer Rouge, now they've changed their name
to Khmer Serei," Bran scoffed. "They have just changed their colors from
red to white."
According to Bran, the gunmen are led by a "vicious" former KR officer
known only as "Kuen." "He even killed his own wife," Brown said
in reference to the group's leader.
When visited by the Post, Bran confirmed that Kratie RCAF units had been mobilized
to hunt the attackers down, although he added that intelligence reports indicated
the group had fled to Mondulkiri.
"We'll attack them before they can attack us again," Bran said. "If
they stay in the forest and don't surrender, we'll keep fighting them."
Residents of Chlong, however, were distinctly uneasy about the prospect of a renewed
guerrilla insurgency threat.
"People are worried that those Khmer Serei will attack again," said Som
Peng, father of the dead RCAF soldier. "People are afraid to leave the village
after it gets dark."
However, a high-ranking Interior Ministry source downplayed any official perception
of threat by the self-described Khmer Serei.
"The last time the Khmer Serei was even discussed was four months ago,"
the source said. "The attitude of the government is that it beat the Khmer Rouge,
and these so-called 'Khmer Serei' are just riffraff in comparison."