T he Cambodian government has claimed they have captured the key Khmer Rouge
northern headquarters of Anlong Veng after more than three months of multiple
attacks and hundreds of casualties.
Defence Minister Tea Banh told
Reuters : "We captured Anlong Veng on Feb 5. Our troops control the whole area
now." He added there were "no serious casualties."
The claim of victory
at Anlong Veng was denied by Khmer Rouge spokesman Mak Ben in an interview with
the Post on Feb 8.
He said: "The government forces are not in Anlong Veng
- not one inch. Their statements are aimed at covering up their defeats and to
boost the morale of their forces."
Foreign military analysts say the
government suffered at least 200 killed during fierce fighting between Feb 2 and
7 alone. Government sources acknowledge that a number of tanks and military
vehicles were also destroyed during the offensive.
Khmer Rouge sources
claimed more than 500 government troops were killed or wounded in the first days
More than 4000 government soldiers were involved in the
three pronged attack on Anlong Veng, from the south, west and east in remote
guerrilla controlled regions of northern Siem Riep province.
acknowledged that government was attacking the area with great
"This is the third attack. The first attempt was last October, the
second throughout January and the third was this last week. They had three
thousand troops and many tanks involved and they have suffered many casualties.
Their objective in launching the attack is to generate a turning point in order
to destroy and eliminate the DK," he said.
The military seizure of Anlong
Veng, if confirmed, would be a significant political victory in the ongoing
jockeying for leverage between the government and the Khmer Rouge. The fighting
has temporarily replaced stalled peace negotiations designed to achieve a
political settlement to the conflict which would give some role to the Khmer
Rouge in the Royal Government.
But analysts warned that it is too early
to judge the significance of a government seizure of Anlong Veng, and point to
heavy fighting in neighboring Preah Vihear province where the Khmer Rouge are
poised to capture significant government controlled areas.
Western military analysts say that it is unclear whether the government can hold
on to Anlong Veng. They also said that the Khmer Rouge are in a position to
seize other areas, neutralizing any political gains the government might make by
capturing Anlong Veng.
Government and Khmer Rouge sources say the
guerrilla group largely abandoned Anlong Veng more than a month ago, organizing
a tactical retreat in the face of what they knew would be a concerted government
effort to capture the base.
Anlong Veng was captured by the Khmer Rouge
in late 1989 and served as the northern headquarters of the guerrilla faction,
controlled by Ta Mok.
The one-legged general, the most powerful military
commander of the faction, has at least 12 Divisions under his command and is
responsible for all of northern and eastern Cambodia.
Anlong Veng had as
many as 80,000 civilians and their families living there in recent years and was
the single largest settlement of the Khmer Rouge.
Many of the residents
were families of soldiers and civilians who lived in a string of former border
camps in Thailand during the 13 year civil war. It also is said to have housed
thousands of war disabled, elderly, and children.
Anlong Veng also served
as an important logistics base for the faction and was the center of a massive
logging enterprise which reportedly put millions of dollars into the faction's
Fighting is expected to continue through the dry season, and the
Royal Government has said it will attempt to capture the Khmer Rouge's symbolic
headquarters at Pailin.
But lack of ammunition has hindered the
government efforts for several months. Unless the government can acquire large
shipments of heavy ammunition it is unlikely they can launch an offensive on
Pailin, defense analysts say.
In addition, "if they cannot get heavy
ammunition, [the government] will be obliged to withdraw from Anlong Veng," one
Phnom Penh based foreign military analyst said.
But accurate details on
the fighting are difficult to determine. The government has imposed a blackout
on information and ordered their commanders to refuse to give details to
diplomats, defense attaches, and journalists.
and exaggerations have been the order of the day from both the government and
the Khmer Rouge.
What is clear, according to government and diplomatic
sources is the price in casualties was high for the government offensive which
has gone on for more than a month.
KR spokesman Mak Ben said the
government had rejected an offer of talks.
He said: "The war will not
solve the problem. The war has lasted fifteen years. They are fighting in the
16th dry season. The military situation will not change the balance of forces.
"We are ready to start the technical group [for peace negotiations]. We
have requested and continue to request to sit down and talk but the only reply
has been the attack on Anlong Veng.
"With fighting, rehabilitation and
reconstruction is out of the question. There can be no peace, no security, and
no foreign investment. It is not just a question of win or lose. It is a
question of life and death. In the question of life and death, we have to choose
life," he said