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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Khmer Serei' blamed for attack on Kratie RCAF base

'Khmer Serei' blamed for attack on Kratie RCAF base

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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

change.

"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."

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