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.
KR occupied some concrete buildings in the town and fighting is going
"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
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
Gen Pol Saroeun, deputy in command of the Pailin operation
had told the Post outside the town: "We have to hold Pailin
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
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.
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
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
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
The soldiers also were apparently carrying out a well-organized
ransacking of the town, which was quite lavishly furnished by its former
"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
Departing soldiers carried turkeys, KR bicyles and plastic pipes.
Whiskey, beer, fruit juice and noodles were being brought in to supply the
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