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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pailin under new management

Pailin under new management

Ker Munthit describes the scene inside the newly-captured KR


After sunset Pailin is a ghost town apart from the military. All signs of

civilian life have vanished.

Dogs began barking in concert with the

echoing sounds of gun fire supplied from the surrounding mountain areas -

virulent dissonance to honor the arrival of a group of 30 journalists and

military attaches who journeyed to witness "The Fall of Pailin".

As the

visitors entered the town, house pets gave puzzled glances, then ran away in

panic. In contrast, pigs were snoozing in the marshy puddles, oblivious to what

was going on.

The scene appeared calm but a feeling of menace was in the


Pailin was the Khmer Rouge's main political and economic center. It

was captured by the guerrillas in 1989 when Vietnamese troops withdrew from

Cambodia. The Royal Government forces retook the base around March 19. The area

is rich in resources, particularly timber and gems.

Private Nguon Bory

of infantry unit of Division 4 said: "I am happy that we defeated the KR in


"We can not let the KR take Pailin back, we must hold it because

we have only one legal government that rules all territory."

Gen Pol

Saroeun, deputy in command of the Pailin operation, said: "The capture of Pailin

brings down the morale of KR soldiers in other areas because Pailin served as

the major center for their political and economic existence."


who reportedly fled to Thailand, left notes on their front doors: 'Please, don't

break the lock'; 'Please, keep things in order'; 'Look after our house. We will

come back. Thank you'.

New Thai style white concrete buildings stand out

amongst the wooden houses built in the old days. One of these buildings is being

used as the front line headquarters of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and was

also home to visiting newsmen. Soldiers say the three-storey guesthouse was used

by the KR to accommodate VIP Thai businessmen. Its doors and windows are made

from aluminum and smoked glass.

Expensive carpet runs across the ground

floor up the stairs to the top floor. King Sihanouk's portrait hangs on a

curtain overlooking guest chairs made from blackwood near the main entrance. The

Royal government flag now flies over a flower garden outside. Across the street

and opposite lies the former KR central office of the Pailin zone.

Government soldiers enjoy the fruits of victory by looting houses.

Winners always collect trophies! They shoot livestock: chickens, ducks, pigs and

cows, and mix it with the tons of abandoned KR rice to create morale-boosting

feasts. Soldiers stationed on the muddy re-supply routes outside Pailin are

jealous, their food ration is: salt fish on Monday, salt fish on Tuesday, on

Wednesday they have salt fish...

Ecologically Pailin has suffered

indescribable destruction, if not a total disaster, because of the lucrative

logging and gem-mining trade between Thai businessmen and the KR over the past

four years.

State land, once covered with lush forest, is sparse and

registered as privately owned. Thousands of cubic meters of timber and ply wood

lie along the main tracks ready for reprocessing, especially Beng - top quality

wood used in house and furniture construction. Gem mining has been made easy by

sophisticated Thai imported heavy machinery. Alluvium has been dumped into the

Stung Khieu (Blue River). The water is now coffee color.

The rebels are

believed to have divided into small groups, conducting hit and run ambushes and

laying mines on government logistics lines. They recently launched a raid on a

government position in Bavel where they destroyed three arms


Asked if it was a KR attempt to divert government

concentration from Pailin, Saroeun said: "We are not stupid enough to do that.

We have to hold Pailin forever."

But, the general did not ignore the

rebel retaliation: "The fall of Pailin is not the end of the KR, they have not

conceded defeat and are poised for revenge."

He added: "The KR cannot be

destroyed in a year. I think they will still fight us. But, winning or losing is

not up to them, it is up to us. They just escaped and now they don't have enough

weapons and ammunition to fight."

Fearing repetition of the disaster in

Anlong Veng, government soldiers have begun beefing up operations to clear out

the small groups of rebels hiding in the surrounding hills. Army officers said

more than 4,000 soldiers supported by tanks and heavy artillery were inside and

around Pailin.

Government forces claimed to have killed 85 KR soldiers in

the battle, and seized more than one hundred tons of weapons and ammunition.

Among the cache was a T-54 tank, two bulldozers, and about one hundred tons of

rice. There are no exact casualty figures for government forces, but hundreds of

wounded soldiers were seen, and are believed to have been admitted to the

military hospital in Battambang province.



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