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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tip-off allows Mok to fight on

Tip-off allows Mok to fight on

TA MOK

A TIP-OFF to Khmer Rouge chief Ta Mok allowed him to escape an imminent rebellion

against him, seize the movement's political leadership and radio station, and escape

to a hilltop to direct counter-attacks against the plotters.

"Ta Mok was told of our plan to break away," said the revolt's military

leader, former guerrilla regional commander Yim Phanna, when asked why Mok fled the

KR capital of Anlong Veng several days before the mutiny was set to be launched.

Phanna, who had been secretly talking with Cambodian army officials aligned to the

Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for at least six weeks, blamed "soldiers from

the government side" for alerting Mok. Asked if he believed they were Funcinpec

soldiers, he said: "I cannot say this was Funcinpec or some political party,

but it was not CPP."

Mok fled Anlong Veng into the Dangrek escarpment to the north on the night of March

22, according to defectors. In the next two days, he sent loyalists to collect KR

political leaders Khieu Samphan, Chan Youran, Tep Kunnal and others.

He also collected Pol Pot, the KR doyen deposed last year, as well as the KR's long-time

Brother No 2 Nuon Chea and the movement's mobile radio transmitter, according to

defectors and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) chiefs.

The conspirators against Mok, who had been awaiting the green light to attempt to

seize Anlong Veng when government troops were in place ready to support them, were

taken by surprise. For two days, they made no move until clashes finally broke out

with Mok's forces on the evening of March 24.

Despite the forewarning of Mok, the putsch was remarkably successful in its first

days - by April 4, a total of 1,893 guerrillas from about 10 KR army divisions in

Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and other provinces had joined it, according to RCAF figures.

Observers cautioned that the figures may be exaggerated, but agreed that Anlong Veng

had taken perhaps its biggest body blow ever.

However, within a week of the uprising against him, Mok - the 71-year-old amputee

warlord with a bloody history and a reputation for cruelty - began to strike back.

His troops re-entered Anlong Veng town on April 1, RCAF officials conceded.

At Post press time, both the government and the KR claimed control of Anlong

Veng town, while continued fighting was reported.

The town itself and neighboring villages remained virtually empty, their occupants

having fled. Several thousand KR refugees gathered at O'Bai Tap, about 50km south

of Anlong Veng, and more than 30,000 Cambodians also spilled across the border into

Thailand, according to Thai authorities. They were reportedly sent back early this

week after Thai officials declared Ta Mok to be in "total control" of Anlong

Veng - a statement RCAF generals rejected.

I'VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP

KR defector Kong Sithea points from the top of Preah Vihear to the road leading to Anlong Veng.

Earlier, Mok's loyalists - mainly his bodyguard unit and the special KR Div 912 -

were said to be based on so-called Mountain 200, north of Anlong Veng, in the Dangrek

escarpment. More than 1,000 civilians rounded up by his soldiers were reported to

be on Mt 808, to the west.

Mok's troop numbers are uncertain - anything between 200-400, according to RCAF and

defectors, although some KR experts suggested he likely had more than that. RCAF

officials alleged Mok has been reinforced by a further 200-300 guerrillas sent from

the Funcinpec resistance based at O'Smach to the west.

Some observers were skeptical of the claims of the Funcinpec resistance's involvement,

suggesting possible political motives - Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh

could be banned from this year's elections if he or his party is shown to be linked

to the KR.

The timing of the CPP-led breakaway was exquisite for the CPP - drawing the limelight

away from Prince Ranariddh's long-awaited return to Cambodia - but defectors and

RCAF officials denied that it was engineered that way.

The Anlong Veng defectors appear to have been wooed by promises of semi-autonomy,

as given to the former KR areas of Pailin and Phnom Malai. "We guarantee to

all the people who have announced their breakaway from the Khmer Rouge hardliners

in Anlong Veng [the same] as the Royal Government has guaranteed to the people who

broke away in Pailin, Malai..." Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Ung Huot wrote in

a March 26 letter to the breakaway leaders.

Particularly, analysts said, the splitters were likely to be intent on profiting

from the opening up of the logging trade to Thailand if Anlong Veng joined the government.

"The question has to be asked: what specifically have they been promised in

terms of logging?" said one observer.

But first the government and the defectors have to quell Mok's forces, and are racing

to do this before the onset of the rainy season, which will make it considerably

harder to move in heavy weapons and supplies.

RCAF officials said that about 600 defectors and the same number of RCAF are fighting

Mok's loyalists, but that the defectors - as happened in Pailin and Malai - had been

given primary responsibility for securing the region. Some frontline guerrillas,

however, complained to the Post of a lack of tanks and artillery from RCAF.

"You can capture Anlong Veng but only hold it if you are followed immediately

by the logistics," noted one observer. "It's fine to say you have to many

[defecting] soldiers and families, but that's just the first stage. Now they are

expecting a lot of medicine, food, shelter, and more from their new friends. What

follows is more important."

The fighting does not appear to be fierce: several frontline commanders cited very

low casualty figures; Siem Reap military hospital, as of Apr 6, reported only three

wounded taken there since the breakaway began.

Ta Mok, meanwhile, made it clear he would fight on. "The traitors...were forced

out to the south, which is all they held on to," he said in an Apr 2 interview

in Anlong Veng with a Khmer journalist who asked for anonymity.

"Now everything is back in order," Mok reportedly told the journalist,

who also said he saw Pol Pot in Anlong Veng.

Mok - who spent most of the interview proclaiming Anlong Veng's great natural wealth,

citing the number of chickens, pigs and cows in the town - did say that he had lost

two tanks in the turmoil.

"They were totally disintegrating," said one KR analyst. "But now

Ta Mok will use his propaganda to try to get people back. It's always dangerous to

say that this is the end of the Khmer Rouge. As long as the leadership is existing,

as long as the radio station is still broadcasting, you can never say it is finished."

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