F ESS than two weeks after the withdrawal of Funcinpec's forces from the capital had
raised the ghost of a 1980s-style resistance in the Northwest, a prolonged armed-struggle
in the maquis seems increasingly unlikely.
As key Funcinpec military bases in Siem Reap province fall effortlessly under control
of CPP army units, military experts and international observers are growing more
skeptical as to the military strength of Ranariddh's loyalist forces.
Throughout last week, units of the National Armed Forces (NAF) - as CPP field commanders
have renamed the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) - pushed north along Route 68
in Siem Reap province.
At Post press time, Funcinpec had relinquished several positions along this 120km
stretch that links National Route 6 to the Thai border, leaving behind weapons, supplies
For the most part, CPP forces met with little or no resistance.
A short-lived attempt to challenge CPP's control of Samrong, the headquarters of
RCAF Division 9 and a Funcinpec stronghold, was made over the weekend. But by noon
on Tuesday, CPP forces had reportedly retaken the village.
At press time, an independent source confirmed that CPP soldiers had moved 5 kms
north of Samrong and were advancing toward the Thai/Cambodian border.
A Japanese photographer, in Samrong last weekend, said that following an initial
exchange of artillery rounds between the two factions on July 19, Funcinpec forces
briefly regained control of the town early July 20. A few hours later, Funcinpec
quietly retreated following the approach of CPP reinforcements.
Military observers speculate that it is unlikely Funcinpec will be able to mount
any large scale counter-attacks, as more and better equipped CPP troops reach the
Some observers maintain that the growing disparity of means and men - with Funcinpec
forces reportedly in control of ten tanks (of which only five are said to be in working
order) and twenty artillery pieces - is bound to seal the fate of the "resistance."
"Funcinpec lost the war from Kralanh to here. They lack food, guns and ammunition,"
a CPP military commander said earlier last week in Srey Snam- a village 50 kms south
of Samrong that, at the time, was just south of the front line. Three days later,
CPP troops were to take control of Samrong proper.
The first hints of a possible Funcinpec rout came July 15 when more than 1,000 men
from the NAF Division 11 walked into the abandoned headquarters of Funcinpec Division
3 in Srey Snam village, 30km north of the junction of Route 68 and Route 6.
The only shots fired were in celebration of the war booty - a depot full of ammunition
left behind during Funcinpec's hasty departure.
Wearing blue and red scarves to differentiate themselves from RCAF divisions that
remain loyal to Prince Ranariddh, NAF soldiers leisurely ransacked the premises.
One soldier, coming out of one of the buildings with a looted portrait of King Sihanouk
and Queen Monineath, flung them into the air with a smile. A few hundred meters away,
another soldier opened fire with his AK47 on a large painting portraying a uniformed
Prince Ranariddh as Commander-in-Chief.
Villagers in Srey Snam said that Funcinpec had retreated to the Division 3 headquarters
from Kralanh village (55km to the west of Siem Reap town) July 14, where it had previously
moved to in an attempt to retain control of a section of Route 6.
The next day, eyewitnesses said, the royalist forces had abandoned the base with
two tanks, following a CPP artillery barrage which killed three civilians. Both tanks
appeared to have broken down, 30 kilometers further north, and lay abandoned by the
side of the road.
Seemingly unable to defend their positions for lack of weapons and ammunitions, Funcinpec
forces have destroyed several bridges to delay the advance of NAF, slow down the
supply of food and ammunition to enemy troops and prevent the deployment of CPP's
tanks and heavy artillery further north.
It appears that former or current Khmer Rouge soldiers are to some extent aiding
both sides in the battle for the north.
CPP field commanders acknowledged that KR defectors from Div 15 are spearheading
the National Armed Forces' offensive, flanked by CPP's Div11 troops.
On July 18, in Rohm village, 14km north of Chong Kal, a small group of Div 15 soldiers
- many still wearing KR uniforms - were seen waiting in the pouring rain for orders
On the other side, villagers interviewed in several locations along Route 68 reported
the presence of "many" KR soldiers alongside Funcinpec troops.
But neither military intelligence sources or international independent observers
have been able to find evidence to confirm the government's claim that Funcinpec
"dissidents" have firmly linked up with KR hardliners from Anlong Veng.
However, NAF Div 11 commander General Uy Sopheap maintained that at least two KR
divisions - 912 and 920 - had merged with Funcinpec's forces.
Another CPP commander in Chong Kal said that between 250 and 300 KR from Division
912 joined ranks with Funcinpec, but admitted that at least some KR units were seeking
rapprochement with the government.
"They want to join the government, but they have cooperated with Funcinpec and
now want to wait. They know that Funcinpec has lost too many wars," said Lt
Colonel Ouch Sarik.
He maintained that 150 KR soldiers from KR Div 852 - based in Anlong Veng- and 250
more from the newly formed KR Div 519 - based east of Chong Kal - had already aligned
themselves with NAF. "They have not been integrated yet, but they have turned
in their weapons."
NAF commanders also alleged that more than 800 KR soldiers were massing up in Phum
Bos, about ten kilometers east of Kon Kriel-a small village on the road between Samrong
"Funcinpec troops have brought all their heavy weaponry to Kon Kriel,"
said Major Yom Phan, the commander of CPP militia in Samrong.
Details about the strength, position and allegiance of KR and Funcinpec units across
the Northwest remain sketchy. But CPP commanders maintain they have detailed information
regarding an alleged restructuring of Funcinpec forces, under the overall commander
of Gen Khan Savoeun, a key ally of the party's military chief Nhek Bun Chhay.
Despite the limited ground fighting so far, sporadic shelling and marauding soldiers
have scared many of the villagers along Route 68 into seeking shelter in the forest
or, as for the case of villages north of Samrong, on the Thai/Cambodian border.
Border relief agencies said that refugees fleeing the conflict had massed along the
border, but that it was still difficult to determine exact refugee figures.
"We have reports of 5,000 refugees massing near the Samrong, but we are waiting
for reports as we are still seeking permission from the Thai army to cross the border
into the Osmach area," said Yves Coyette, country representative for Medecins
In Samrong proper, a missionary who runs an orphanage maintained that CPP forces
were preventing people from fleeing the town.
"They don't allow us to go toward Kralanh and the road to Osmach is still cut
off," said the missionary. "I cannot leave with all the orphans but I'm
afraid of the fighting and of the robbers," he added referring to a spate of
robberies and looting that followed Funcinpec's initial withdrawal from the town
at midnight July 17.
To the outside eye, it appeared that pillaging had more devastating effects than
the fighting in Samrong. At one point last week, a small group of soldiers were seen
under the shade of a tree "guarding" the bare, ransacked Funcinpec military
headquarters. The only sounds of battle were the explosions echoing from a Gameboy
computer game in the hands of one of soldiers.