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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR close to recapturing Pailin

KR close to recapturing Pailin

KHMER Rouge guerrillas were on the verge of recapturing their headquarters at

Pailin after heavy fighting in the town, a Battambang provincial official said

as the Post went to press.

The source, who declined to be named, said in

a telephone interview: "The town has not yet completely fallen to the KR. Our

troops withdrew from the center of the town to the outskirts of it.

"The

KR occupied some concrete buildings in the town and fighting is going

on.

"Three tanks that had been under maintainance could not be used and

were left behind when our troops withdrew."

Khmer Rouge radio claimed the

town, close to the Thai border, was recaptured at 12.45 pm on Tuesday April 19,

along with seven tanks.

A Phnom Pen-based guerrilla official, who refused

to be named said government soldiers had "fled in disarray across their own

minefields."

When asked if Pailin had fallen Deputy Information Minister

Khieu Kanharith said: "Not the whole area."

Pailin was taken by the RCAF

exactly a month before amid a fanfare of world-wide publicity and to lose the

town again so quickly would be a major embarrassment for the

government.

Gen Pol Saroeun, deputy in command of the Pailin operation

had told the Post outside the town: "We have to hold Pailin

forever."

Co-premier Hun Sen made a brief visit to the town prior to the

New Year and said the government was planning to turn it into an economic

development zone.

Pailin provided the Khmer Rouge with a rich source of

income from timber and gem concessions operated by Thai businessmen.

Thai newspaper reports sourced to the Thai military had inaccurately

claimed Pailin had been recaptured last week.

But wire agency reports

then, quoting government officials, did admit fighting was going on around the

town and the airport was being shelled to disrupt helicopter flights supplying

the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces garrison.

Freelance photographer

François Bot was in the town as late as April 17 and he reported the town then

as largely quiet overnight during the New Year celebrations.

Bot saw one

defensive position in the town, a machine gun that had been placed in a house. A

single artillery piece was sited along the road, but not dug in. In fact there

were no defensive works around the town, security appeared to lax or

non-existent.

The Frenchman said the peace was only broken by

intermittent artillery fire from the government artillery piece located 2 km

outside the town.

He said:"The soldiers in Pailin were very relaxed,

there was no evident state of tension.

"The soldiers engaged in endless

conversation and sitting around."

Bot said that the morale of the

soldiers then had seemed quite high. "I was able to meet many of the soldiers.

From a 12-year-old boy soldier and his automatic weapon, to the many soldiers

who appeared to be more than 60 years old, they seemed to be quite content in

their situation."

Journalists were allowed unhampered access throughout

the town during the daylight.

Soldiers had even set up businesses selling

goods brought in from Battambang. Bot reported that prices are two or three

times those in Battambang. Customers were journalists and new

soldiers.

The soldiers also were apparently carrying out a well-organized

ransacking of the town, which was quite lavishly furnished by its former

occupiers.

"In my hotel room there was no furniture at all. It was

completely stripped. In fact every house in the town was completely empty.

"Anything that could be moved was gone. I saw soldiers removing teak

doors from some of the buildings and putting them in trucks to be carried

out."

Departing soldiers carried turkeys, KR bicyles and plastic pipes.

Whiskey, beer, fruit juice and noodles were being brought in to supply the

garrison.

In addition to artillery fire, the Royal Army has been harassed

by small-scale attacks.

Bot said the road the RCAF cut through the jungle

to Pailin is trafficable, but vulnerable to rain.

Bot said: "The

soldiers guarding the airfield were evidently nervous, especially when artillery

rounds were fired, even government ones." - Additional reporting by Reuters

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