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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Negotiations falter as heat goes on Ta Mok

Negotiations falter as heat goes on Ta Mok

PRESSURE from all sides is mounting on Ta Mok as distrust between Funcinpec and the

Khmer Rouge hardliners deepens, government troops move on Anlong Veng, and Thailand

is reported to be backing attempts to isolate him.

Funcinpec officials are clearly upset at Mok's refusal to release a group of negotiators

believed to be held hostage in Anlong Veng after more than three weeks.

Mok's troops - said to include a contingent of women guerrillas - have clashed with

Cambodian People's Party (CPP) forces near Preah Vihear.

Funcinpec is also moving soldiers nearer Anlong Veng.

Speculation is rife, meanwhile, over assistance Thailand may be giving to pressure

Mok. Senior Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay is reportedly courting the Thai military,

while another Funcinpec source claims Thailand is ready to seize KR money in Thai

banks to force Mok to continue negotiations.

As 15 Funcinpec negotiators headed by Siem Reap deputy governor Hem Bun Heng remained

in Anlong Veng, Mok's forces reportedly attacked several hundred CPP troops near

Preah Vihear Feb 28.

The KR occupied Ang Krong, an RCAF base, before the CPP troops were able to seize

it back.

"Ta Mok moved his forces to attack on the CPP division," said Long Sereirath,

deputy of fourth military region commander Khan Savoeun (Funcinpec).

"There were between 200 to 300 KR soldiers gathered from every division in Anlong

Veng under Mok's command and there were about 150 brave women selected by him."

Asked whether the fighting could endanger the negotiations, Savoeun - the key negotiator

with Mok over the Anlong Veng hostages - would not comment.

But Savoeun expressed worry and anger at the way the negotiations were being delayed,

saying: "I expected the negotiations to take from one day to one week.

"If Ta Mok continues to do crazy things...I will not allow him and I will put

pressure on him," Savoeun said.

Savoeun, who said he had spoken to Mok by phone Feb 24, said that Mok had put conditions

on their release. One condition was a cease-fire and autonomy for the Anlong Veng

region, he said.

But Tum Sambol, military adviser to Funcinpec leader and First Prime Minister Prince

Ranariddh Norodom, denied that autonomy was a condition.

Sambol said he used to be in daily contact with the group of negotiators, especially

with Division 9 deputy commander Min Pin. But on Mar 4 he said he had not been able

to contact them for the past three days.

Sambol said that the government requested the hardliners to send back Hem Bung Heng

before any further negotiations, but he said that they did not respond to the request.

"They said they needed time to discuss together before deciding to negotiate,"

said Sambol.

Savoeun said Feb 28 that he had given orders to his forces around Anlong Veng to

push towards the stronghold.

In Angkor Chhum district, 100 troops from RCAF division 45 and more than 200 former

rebels - who defected from KR Division 912 four days earlier - were ordered

to move towards Anlong Veng.

"This move does not mean we are going to attack. It is just to be closer and

have easy contact with them. The closer, the better, we can talk with each other,"

said Savoeun.

He said it would be easier to protect in case anything happened to the group of negotiators.

Meanwhile there are reports that Mok may have fallen out with his Thai military neighbors

to the north. According to a Funcinpec military source in Siem Reap, Mok has had

to close his family's long-established gas station in Thai-land's Sisaket province.

The Thai army is threatening to seize caches of old Chinese ammunition on the Thai-Lao

border in Ubon Rachathani, according to the source.

Also, Thai government officials are ready to seize KR assets in Thai banks, according

to the source - who claimed that the money totaled up to $200m - unless Mok negotiates

seriously with Cambodian authorities.

The Nation reported Mar 3 that Nhek Bun Chhay was recently involved in secret talks

with the Thai National Security Council, without the knowledge of the Cambodian foreign

ministry. The newspaper quoted a senior Thai security official as saying that Bun

Chhay "might possibly be seeking a green light to use Thai soil to re-organize

[a] meeting" with Mok.

The hostage crisis began Feb 14 when Hem Bun Heng and other negotiators helicoptered

to an area near Anlong Veng to meet with Mok's deputies Long Tem and Ta Ngon.

According to Khan Savoeun, Mok got angry when he heard of the negotiations. Sambol

added that the team was sent at first to negotiate only with Tem and Ngon, and Mok

was not directly informed of the talks.

Savoeun said that Hem Bun Heng's mission followed two months of negotiations, and

guarantees had been given that nothing bad would happen. "That is why we dared

to meet them," he said.

After landing, the helicopter was partially dismantled by the KR to prevent the team

from returning, Sambol said.

According to Savoeun, Mok was waiting for the results of the National United Front

(NUF) meeting in Phnom Penh before negotiating further.

In fact, say other Funcinpec sources, Hem Bun Heng's reason for flying into the area

to begin with was to deliver a draft copy of the NUF charter - which was subsequently

adopted at the NUF meeting in Phnom Penh Feb 27.

The hardliners had expressed interest in joining NUF. But Mok - reportedly at odds

with KR historical leader Pol Pot over whether to negotiate a deal with the government

- apparently took the hostages as a "guarantee".

Savoeun, after talking to Mok by telephone Feb 24, three days before the NUF meeting,

said the KR chief had expressed great concern at the government's handling of the

Vietnamese issue.

"Mok criticized the government for doing nothing about the Vietnamese who have

settled down illegally in Cambodia," he said.

KR radio broadcast several programs supporting the foundation of the NUF and criticized,

as it tends to do, the CPP as being a "Vietnamese puppet."

"It sounded as if [the KR] are pushing the NUF platform to be adopted soon,"

said Savoeun.

"Now...let's see if what KR said goes along with their ideas or whether they

just shouted to create problems."

Savoeun said that last Friday, the day after the NUF meeting, Mok asked to talk with

Tum Sambol.

Long Sereirath claimed that the two spoke and Mok asked to talk with Ranariddh. Sambol

denied speaking with Mok, but affirmed that a message had been sent to him to set

up a meeting between the commander or one of his representatives, and Savoeun and

Bun Chhay.

Ranariddh acknowledged this week that the NUF charter had been sent to Anlong Veng,

but said that this happened after the NUF congress in Phnom Penh.

One of Mok's conditions for negotiations is the future autonomous status of Anlong

Veng - the same way it has been done with Pailin and Malai, Savoeun said.

But Sambol denied that autonomy was a demand, and said a cease fire and integration

of the Anlong Veng forces into RCAF was what Funcinpec wanted.

Savoeun said Mok initially did not want to negotiate a deal for autonomy but had

been pressured by other KR bosses.

"I know that Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan were in favor of autonomy but not Mok.

They cannot do anything without his agreement, as he is in charge of military operations."

Savoeun added that he believed Pol Pot and Samphan agreed 100 percent with the "autonomy"

in Pailin and Malai.

If Mok does harm Hem Bun Heng, he will be betraying a long-standing relationship

between the deputy governor and the guerrilla movement, according to independent

KR researchers.

Bun Heng was a deputy regimental commander in the ANKI anti-Vietnamese forces during

the 1980s. He stayed in remote jungle areas with his troops, living "cheeck

and jowl with the Khmer Rouge," as one KR expert put it.

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