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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Northern resistance on the run

Northern resistance on the run

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

and ammunition.

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

front line.

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

from NAF.

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

and Osmach.

"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

Sans Frontieres.

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.

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