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Entire district flees rebel onslaught

Entire district flees rebel onslaught

RATTANAK MONDUL - MORE than 20,000 villagers in virtually all of this district

have fled their homes after repeated attacks by the Khmer Rouge.

Situated

less than 40km from Battambang town, Rattanak Mondul sits on the western border

between Battambang province and Khmer Rouge-controlled Pailin.

It has

been the subject of Khmer Rouge raids and shelling since Dec 16 - long before

the latest series of attacks in Battambang province - prompting a mass

exodus.

"A total of 5199 families with a figure of 26,964 people in the

district have left," district chief Kem Saphin said on Jan 17.

No

villagers were present when the Post visited the district town, where only

soldiers and Kem Saphin's personal bodyguards were.

Saphin said some 400

Khmer Rouge fighters, along with two tanks, attacked three villages in the

district - just 3km from where RCAF troops were - on Dec 16. They later attacked

six other villages.

The guerrillas routed the local Royal army troops,

occupying nine of their positions for several hours.

After

reinforcements, including two tanks, arrived for the government troops, the

Khmer Rouge retreated into the jungle some 5-7km away.

Since then, they

had fired shells at the district town and surrounding villages at the rate of

three to five rounds a day.

On Jan 3, the Khmer Rouge again launched an

offensive at the town but were repelled after a seven-hour battle. Three

government soldiers died and nine were wounded.

The guerillas seized 200

sacks of rice and a mortar launcher during the fighting.

Dozens of shells

were fired at the town, killing two people and injuring 18.

Local people,

frightened at being killed by shells, had since decided to

flee.

Villagers who abandoned their homes have been living in camps 5-8km

away.

At one camp, Phat Joeun, 46, said: "I had to abandon my home for my

family's safety. The Khmer Rouge shelling came every day...I was very

frightened.

Koeun Leap, a grocery seller, said she had witnessed her

neighbor being struck by shrapnel in the head.

She said she had no

intention of returning to her home in Sdav commune while the Khmer Rouge

remained within shelling distance from it.

Kem Saphin, the district

chief, said he had no great hopes of being able to urge his people to return to

their homes in the near future.

He said security of the area had never

been good since the Khmer Rouge recaptured Pailin after losing it to the RCAF in

the middle of last year.

He believed the guerillas wanted to occupy the

Rattanak Mondul district to use it as a base to spear-head other attacks in

Battambang province.

He believed a major RCAF offensive was need to push

the rebels back to Pailin and hold them there.

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