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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thousands flee Govt offensive

Thousands flee Govt offensive

O'Smach - The signs of war are everywhere in this isolated border village: soldiers

began digging ditches along the road into town, spent cartridges scattered on the

ground, stores burned down, the door of every house closed.

The civilians from the town and its surrounding villages have packed up and made

their way down the Dangrek mountain to seek shelter in safe areas along Route 68.

"I was trying to escape from the bullets," explains Nuong Nan, a government

soldier who joined the exodus to accompany his family to Samrong, 40 km south of

O'Smach.

"I thought I was dead because [the Khmer Rouge] were about 20 meters from us.

I was scared to death," said Nan, who planned to return to the front as soon

as he could take his wife and child to safety.

The fighting has prompted Thai log dealers to step up traffic in cut timber across

the border and to evacuate expensive machinery. A Thai customs officer described

the fighting as a "big loss for Thai businessmen".

One villager, So Thy, said he was forced to act as a guide for the guerrillas after

government troops over ran their position on October 11.

He confirmed reports of Thai help for the Khmer Rouge and told the Post he had seen

Thai border forces accompany food and ammunition supplies into Cambodia.

Eye-witness accounts said about 20 guerrillas were injured, mostly by mines. So Thy

said he was also forced to carry the wounded in hammocks to the Thai village of Dan.

"They told me not to stay in O'Smach anymore [because the] next attack will

be strong. They vow to take it," he added.

Government forces have beefed up defences around O'Smach in preparation for another

Khmer Rouge attack, following their retreat after the earlier clash.

Front-line commanders say guerrilla units, including elements newly redeployed from

the Anlung Veng stronghold, are consolidating at Phnum Ta Thang, about 4km east of

O'Smach.

Three government soldiers and two civilians were killed and eight wounded during

crossfire. Khmer Rouge casualties are reported to number 26.

At Kon Kreal district, half way between Samrong and this border town, government

troops have deployed Chinese-made 130 mm artillery and Russian T-54 tanks to support

infantry at the front.

"Our concern is the shortage of ammunition," complained Maj Gen Sen Chamrong,

Third Division commander.

"If we don't have it we will not be able to resist because the Khmer Rouge have

sworn to take vengeance on O'Smach," he said, adding that the guerrillas need

O'Smach as an alternative in case their headquarters falls into government hands.

The general said their commander, Ta Mok, fled Anlung Veng to the border where he

is directing operations on the ground.

"Ta Mok ordered his soldiers to take O'Smach," said the Maj Gen. "If

they can't, he threatened to drop them in boiling water."

Since the beginning of October, the government has deployed more than 3,000 troops

from six divisions against 800 guerrillas in Anlung Veng.

The deepest government outpost is at Lumtong, 7km south-west of Anlung Veng, where

650 soldiers are positioned.

He said the guerrillas had split up into small groupsto attack positions along Route

68 in a bid to hinder the RCAF re-supply channel from the 4th regiment in Siem Reap.

"I don't think we can seize Anlung Veng this month," he said, "because

of the rain.

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