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Covert Thai Unit 838 resurfaces

Covert Thai Unit 838 resurfaces

BANGKOK -A special Thai unit set up to work with Cambodian guerrilla factions in

the 1980s still operates in the border jungles and played a major role in

forcibly repatriating refugees to Cambodia last week, Thai military sources

say.

The elite "Unit 838" was assigned to coordinate and supervise

Cambodian guerrilla forces in their 13-year civil war against the

Vietnamese-installed government.

The unit was to have disbanded after the

four factions in the civil war signed a peace pact in late 1991.

But

several Thai military rangers deployed in eastern Chantaburi province said last

week the unit was still operating and that its main purpose now was to

coordinate with the KR.

"When senior Khmer Rouge officials travel via

our checkpoint, 838 will inform us ahead of time," said one of the rangers, a

member of a special force deployed to deal with trouble along Thailand's

extensive borders with Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

Bangkok has denied links

with the KR, saying it ceased support after the pact was signed.

Army

spokesman Colonel Palangkoon Kraharn said he was unaware of the existence of the

838 Unit. "The army has assigned regular units to deal with security problems on

the border," he said.

The rangers said the 838 had played a big role in

last week's forcible repatriation of 25,000 people, mostly KR families fleeing a

government offensive on their stronghold at Pailin.

"The 838 Unit was the

one that coordinated with regular forces to bring the Cambodian refugees into

Sabtali [an area straddling the Thai-Cambodian border]," the rangers told

Reuters during a recent visit to the border.

Thai Rear Admiral Trirat

Chamanan told reporters last week that the marine task force based on the border

had sent the refugees back on a superior's order.

The rangers said that

at least 14 task forces of Unit 838 - each with between 10 and 15 men - were

still deployed on the border. - Reuters

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