Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - DNUM inches toward Samlot fracas

DNUM inches toward Samlot fracas

DNUM inches toward Samlot fracas

T HE fence Pailin has successfully straddled for more than a year appeared to be getting

narrower as fighting intensified in Samlot this month. Forces loyal to Pailin governor

Ee Chhean secured a significant supply route between Thailand and Samlot, both tightening

the cordon around the resistance enclave to the south and bolstering its own defenses.

The news was greeted warmly by Military Region 5 Deputy Commander Gen Ko Chhea, who

said up to 200 troops loyal to Ee Chhean were deployed Oct 14 to a position between

Phnom Tatai and Phnom Tabat.

Pailin chiefs could not be contacted for comment at press time, but Democratic National

Union Movement (DNUM) President Ieng Sary told the Post earlier this month that he

had agreed with co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh to "reinforce troops around

our border".

Sary went to great lengths to affirm his neutrality, however. "If the government

requests Pailin to assist to fight Samlot, our stance [is] to ask the government

not to use the gun to solve the problem."

While the militarily and economically autonomous DNUM was not shooting, its securing

of the position between the two mountains - a key supply line for the Samlot resistence,

according to army officials - helped put the pressure on the renegades.

From Samlot's southern flank of Koh Kong, Gen Ko Chhea also confirmed that about

300 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) troops pushed north and were closing in on

the beleaguered district.

While army officers declined to disclose their force levels, Western military analysts

put the number at about 4,000.

"Many were flown in by an Mi26 helicopter belonging to Teng Boonma," said

one analyst, who declined to be named. "They were mobilized from many parts

of the country while Hun Sen was away and that may have contributed to coup fears

in the capital earlier this month."

RCAF has been fighting for control of the Samlot area since former Khmer Rouge defectors

there, led by Ta Muth and Iem Phan, turned against the government in mid-August.

The rebels - reinforced by the KR hardliners of Anlong Veng and the Funcinpec resistance

based at O'Smach - are now believed to number about 1,000, according to RCAF and

foreign military observers.

Gen Chhea said that about 300 troops had come from O'Smach and Anlong Veng, while

a western military analyst estimated 80-90% were deployed from the northern guerrilla

strongholds.

The rebels are believed to hold most of the greater Samlot area, but RCAF claimed

significant advances in recent weeks.

Ministry of Defense military operations commander Gen Chea Saran said Oct 20 that

his forces were closing in on a rebel base at Peam Ta, located on a ridge of mountains

marking the border 15 kms southeast of Samlot town.

The base is believed to have been set up by Serey Kosal, former security chief to

deposed Prince Norodom Ranariddh, as the Funcinpec resistance moved to support the

Samlot rebels.

"We have reached their base at Peam Ta and hope to capture it this month,"

maintained Gen Chhea.

But a Western military observer said that RCAF was positioned on the war-ravaged

Phnom Doh Kramom "Virgin Breast" mountain several kilometers to the north.

Former KR guerrilla and now RCAF advisor Sam Bith claimed Oct 21 that RCAF was advancing

briskly. "There was not big fighting. The rebels retreated. The problem we have

is mines, but we know how to deal with them."

Meanwhile, troop movements from Koh Kong prompted residents south of Samlot to join

the refugee exodus westward toward Thailand. Border-relief officials said more than

1,000 people fled Veal Veng, about 50km inside Cambodian territory. They had made

it to within 10km of the border by Oct 21.

Thai authorities said 40,000 Cambodians are already in three camps in Thailand's

Trat province. Earlier, more than 20,000 were reported in a camp in Surin province,

across the border from O'Smach in the far north of Cambodia.

"We believe that the figure in Trat is in the high thirties," said a border-relief

official. Even with a conservative estimate, there are still more than 50,000 Cambodian

refugees in Thailand.

About 1,000 of the refugees from O'Smach have been voluntarily repatriated to Cambodia

- most recently a third group of 309 people were bought across the border to the

Kong Va transit camp at Sisophon, some 150km from O'Smach. Some aid workers have

questioned the wisdom of repatriating refugees to a place so far away from their

land and homes.

Peace overtures by Samlot leaders Ta Muth and Iem Phan, and also by Funcinpec military

resistance chief Nhek Bun Chhay in O'Smach, have so far met with no result.

Gen Chea Saran said Muth and Phan had requested Pailin to mediate talks between them

and RCAF, but he doubted their sincerity in talking peace.

Meanwhile, Nhek Bun Chhay issued a statement from O'Smach Oct 8 in which he proposed

conditions for a negotiated settlement. He called for the reinstatement of Prince

Ranariddh as First Prime Minister and Funcinpec President, UN-enforced guarantees

of safety for exiles, United Nations-and ASEAN-supervised elections in 1998 and respect

of the Paris Peace Accords and the 1993 election results.

"As a commander of the armed forces and as a Cambodian, I strongly regret seeing

those who have been killed and wounded are all Khmers; and those who have cried for

help are also Khmers," Bun Chhay wrote in a memo on RCAF General Staff letterhead.

"All these have changed my heart to fight against my fellow Khmer compatriots.

For this reason, I wish to negotiate for peace, to have liberal democracy for our

Cambodian people."

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