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KR dying says senior defector

FORMER Khmer Rouge general Keo Pong says the rebel group has less than 10,000 soldiers,

with an aging leadership which appears intent on waging a last "farewell"

fight before they die.

"It's just a last-minute struggle to fulfill the objectives of the Khmer Rouge

leadership," Pong, one of Cambodia's most prized defectors, said Mar 24.

Speaking to foreign military attaches in Oral district, Kompong Speu, said the rebel

leaders knew they were losing against the Royal Government but were still trying

to strengthen their position.

"Theoretically, they talk about offensive but practically they are in self-defense

only," he said.

"They can not defeat the Royal Government but they struggle for any negotiations

or talks with the Royal government.

"They realize that they are certainly losing but they need to consolidate this

strength [they have now] apparently in what is a farewell for old leaders until they

die," he said.

Pong disputed that the KR leaders were interested in national reconciliation, saying

they had recently renewed their propaganda of "class struggle" as a means

of prolonging their guerrilla war.

But their policies lacked support among KR rank-and-file, who were frustrated at

the continuing war.

He said he and the former comrades he controlled grew disillusioned after the 1993

national election, and the King's roundtable peace talks, failed to bring an end

to the fighting.

They began seeking contact with people in government-controlled areas, gradually

becoming confident enough to arrange their defection.

Pong, a former commander of the Khmer Rouge's 18th Division in Oral district, is

the most senior rebel chief to defect.

In February, he led the single biggest defection of KR soldiers and civilians - 1,313

people in all.

Pong said that much of the KR leadership, including Pol Pot, were based in a camp

in Thailand's Trat province until about three years ago.

Pol Pot, along with general Mok, was now at Phnom Dangrek controlling a northern

area around Route 5.

KR commanders Nuon Chea and Son Sen were in charge of an area further south, he said.

Pong confirmed that there had been dissatisfaction and criticism of Son Sen, as well

as Ieng Sary, from the KR leadership. Sary, he said, might have been demoted.

Of general Nuon Paet, wanted for the murder of three Western tourists on Vine Mountain

in Kampot province, Pong said he had gone for medical treatment south of Battambang

after being injured.

He put the KR's strength at less than 10,000. Not all were real combat troops, he

said.

If the KR stronghold of Pailin fell to the government army, he predicted the rebels

there would retreat to Phnom Kravanh.

Asked where the KR got their supplies from, he said most of it was from old stocks

of ammunition. Some explosives might be smuggled to the rebels by traders along the

Thai border, he said, though he was not certain about that.

He said he had no knowledge of allegations at the KR were involved in drug trafficking.

Asked if he regretted his time with the KR, he said: "It's beyond regret."

He said he was trained by the Viet Cong after joining Cambodian communist forces

in 1970.

Of the war today, he said: "The fighting has no final end and no cause except

to kill Khmers ourselves."

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