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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kompong Thom Province: A Perennial Hot Spot

Kompong Thom Province: A Perennial Hot Spot

Traditionally, Kompong Thom has been an area of friction between the State of Cambodia

(SOC) and the Khmer Rouge (KR). The province is strategically located as the Khmer

Rouge's major supply lines from their secure strongholds along the Thai border pass

through the province to areas of guerrilla operations in Kompong Cham and further

south, crossing Route 6 and then winding their way down to the Tonle Sap. Efforts

by SOC to shut down the supply routes during the dry season have been as regular

as clockwork for many years as much of the area north and south of Route 6 are all

but impassable to vehicles once the rains start.

Military "offensives" in the region have never been initiated primarily

for the purpose of taking and holding territory. From the CPAF point of view their

purpose is more to prevent the permanent establishment of Khmer Rouge forward bases

and to interdict supply lines, to "keep the KR under wraps" as one observer

noted. It's possible that territory gained by CPAF during the recent fighting will

be held for five or six weeks and then given up.

The current CPAF push on Khmer Rouge controlled areas appears to have been four-pronged.

Troops from the 5th division based in Salavichei on Route 12 north of Kompong Thom

city have pushed west, attempting to move artillery positions closer to KR-controlled

villages and within range of the Khmer Rouge 616 division headquarters based in Sakream.

From the south on Route 6 elements of the CPAF 85 regiment moved north, attacking

villages that Col. Sar said had been lost to the Khmer Rouge since the peace accords

were signed.

Further west in Siem Reap province, CPAF attacked north with tanks and armored personnel

carriers towards the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Khvav, a town with a population of

about 20,000 and one which serves as an important logging center for the Khmer Rouge

as well as a logistical center for the trans-shipment of supplies coming down from

the Thai border for eventual delivery further south. It was from fighting in this

area that civilians fled seeking refuge at the Indonesian-manned cantonment site

in Popok.

It is likely that CPAF also initiated military activity from the north in Preah Vihear

province coming south towards the Khmer Rouge-controlled town of Phum Taseng in Sangkum

Thmey district as a means of keeping KR troops from reinforcing other "fronts"

under assault, although the Post could not confirm specific details of engagements

in this region.

Due to problems of both maintaining supplies and morale, CPAF has had difficulties

in sustaining any prolonged military activity in Kompong Thom. Some troops brought

in from other provinces and who are unfamiliar with the local terrain have been known

to desert after several days at the front. Areas of contention are also sparse-ly

populated and not major rice-growing regions, thus making the sustained expenditure

of scarce resources difficult to justify. In previous dry seasons, the Khmer Rouge

have also found ways to draw off State of Cambodia for-ces by attacking strategic

positions further south in Kompong Cham or elsewhere.

In any event, the recent military "offensive" in one of Cambodia's most

troubled provinces should come as no surprise-it's happened before, and the advance

preparations for a military offensive of this size were most likely readily apparent

to all parties concerned.

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