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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Warning as RCAF rolls past Treng

Warning as RCAF rolls past Treng

T RENG-RCAF troops have taken ground along Route 10 to establish a new front line

around 12 km west of Treng - but a Western analyst warned the gains may be

illusory.

On June 21 the Post was allowed to go as far as the third front

line at Phum Tuol on the highway which is one of the country's principal flash

points. From the new frontline at Svay Sor village the Khmer Rouge's

headquarters at Pailin lies another 35 km to the west.

Further advances

along the highway were being held up by the KR digging in on the neighboring

Samdech mountains, said General Beth Choy.

He said there had been little

fighting in the last few days and he and other commanders said they were not

expecting an upsurge in the wake of the guerrillas being ejected from their

Phnom Penh compound by the Royal Government.

The new gains are

particularly welcome to the RCAF seeking to regain its credibility following the

embarrassing flight from Pailin and subsequent helter skelter retreat along

Route 10 to within 20 km of the provincial capital of Battambang in April and

May.

But a Western military analyst cautioned that while the RCAF may

have pushed the guerrillas back along the highway, it has failed to make any

impression on KR ground on the flanks and has in effect created a narrow pocket,

in places perhaps only 20 km wide.

At Phum Toul, Lt Col Nou Kong said

malaria and stomach disorders caused by a lack of fresh water were bigger

enemies than the KR, with a high percentage of frontline troops suffering

illness.

He and other officers appealed to the West to help with

desperately needed medical supplies.

The new advances have been mainly

achieved by infantry thrusts and resupply was being carried out on foot from

Chav village onwards, just 2 km in front of Treng, with the highway yet to be

swept for anti-tank mines.

Gen Soeng Vanna, who heads Division 5 said:

"We are using a different strategy to the attack on Pailin. We are going slowly

and consolidating gains step by step. We have had experience from losing Pailin

last time."

The general, who has lost one arm, added that Phnom Penh had

yet to issue orders to mount a fresh offensive on Pailin. Fighting traditionally

grinds to a halt in the wet season.

The advance was supported by daily

bombing runs made from Battambang by two Mi-8 helicopters, though these were

withdrawn to Phnom Penh on June 21 with the onset of the rainy

season.

Gen Choy said that as little as 200 meters separated the opposing

frontlines and dense undergrowth in between meant that RCAF might not spot

counter attacking guerrrillas until they were only 30 meters

away.

Two-star Gen Math Cheala put RCAF troop strength at 1,000 from

Treng forward and said they are facing up to 550 guerrillas.

At Treng

the government had just two veteran T-54 tanks and a single Russian made 152mm

artillery piece.

Gen Cheala said they were facing 4-5 KR tanks and 122

and 130mm cannon.

During the Post's visit the only military activity

evident was a KR mortar barrage on the frontline being answered by a salvo from

the 152mm gun.

He said his men had adequate supplies of ammunition and

several were seen sporting brand new AK-47s, said to be produced in Singapore,

under licence from China.

Treng itself is undergoing a rebuilding after

it was torched in the KR push towards Battambang. The settlement has been purely

a barracks for several years, while the highway's Western-most concentration of

civilians is at Kilo 38.

However for now most troops are having make do

with makeshift shelters of plastic sheets hung between tree

branches.

Battambang's First Deputy Governor Gen Serei Kosal said that

the entire army was to undergo a rolling program of intensive training at

barracks in an effort to iron out deficiencies laid bare by the retreat from

Pailin

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