O'SMACH - While negotiations are underway for the reintegration of rebel forces here
under the command of General Nhiek Bun Chhay, soldiers from both sides are already
mingling and looking to the future.
Part of the deal leading to the formation of the government was an amnesty for Bun
Chhay, which will clear the way for his troops to return to the RCAF.
Fighting in O'Smach has died down since a July cease-fire was agreed to, although
both sides accuse the other of having broken it on occasions.
At the moment all is peaceful and government soldiers can be seen in O'Smach playing
cards, drinking and associating with the rebels. Many from both sides are scavenging
timber from broken and shelled houses to build new ones for themselves.
Defense minister Tea Banh has said little about progress in the negotiations but
has indicated he is prepared to reintegrate all rebels who used to belong to RCAF.
However he said he would refuse to accept anyone not on that list, including Khmer
It is not known exactly how many troops are based here in O'Smach. Bun Chhay has
claimed to have more than 20,000 and 75,000 civilians. However that is regarded as
exaggeration. Independent sources suggest around 8,500 troops is more realistic.
Meanwhile, the population of O'Smach has increased with people who fled Phnom Penh
and other towns following the political demonstrations of August and early September.
One soldier in O'Smach said many of the people who participated in the demonstrations
in Phnom Penh had bribed government soldiers to let them cross the heavily-mined
front lines into rebel-held O'Smach.
The prospect of peace is enticing to the rebel soldiers but they are not rushing
One rebel officer, Bin Saloeun, said he would like to be reintegrated into RCAF but
was not sure he could trust the government. Till he was assured that it was not all
a trick, he said he would stay where he was.
"I have no salary here but the food and medicine is adequate and we do not have
malaria because we are eating and drinking well.
"I will be staying here until the government and the resistance join and find
real democracy in Cambodia."
One of Saloeun's soldiers said that he had been in the army for 12 years but that
fighting in O'Smach had been the most fierce in which he had ever been involved.
However he said the rebels had good bunkers which helped avoid the worst of the government's
He said he would like to be reintegrated but was concerned that he would be mistreated
by his new commander because he was a rebel. "We worry that when we are under
their command they take some revenge on us. But we do not hate them." He was
disappointed that fighting in O'Smach has destroyed so much and cost so much.
On the government side, the soldiers are also happy that an end is in sight.
One unnamed government officer said it was good that a peaceful settlement had been
reached because he had heard Ta Mok had ordered KR reinforcements into O'Smach.