AS Prince Norodom Ranariddh's loyalists struggle to hold on to their last enclave
of O'Smach, analysts say the long-term survival of the resistance lies with their
ability to cement a tactical alliance with current and former Khmer Rouge.
Guerrillas from the KR stronghold of Anlong Veng are confirmed as having moved to
support Funcinpec soldiers led by General Nhek Bun Chhay at O'Smach on the Thai border.
Meanwhile, there are indications that both Anlong Veng and Bun Chhay's forces are
pressuring - so far unsuccessfully - the former KR areas of Malai and Pailin to join
the armed struggle against the Phnom Penh government.
Key former KR commanders - who foiled an alleged "coup" attempt against
them this month in Pailin - have publicly reiterated their military and political
At Post press time, an intensive close range artillery battle for O'Smach continued
for the ninth day in a row. Funcinpec and KR troops were holding a pocket of territory
near the O'Smach town and strips of territory along the border to the east and west.
Some CPP forces advanced to within 1km of the border early this week, but had retreated
since then, Thai military sources said. About 2,000 pro-Hun Sen soldiers were thought
to be making their way up the high plateau surrounding O'Smach, some up Rt 68 and
others approaching through jungle to the east and west.
Despite almost daily claims from Phnom Penh authorities that O'Smach had been captured,
numerous landmines and heavy artillery fire were hampering the government advance.
Earlier, some 30,000 refugees at O'Smach were permitted by Thai authorities to flee
into Thailand as the fighting grew close. They are being housed in makeshift camps
across the border, many of them sick with malaria. At least two died in a Thai hospital,
aid workers said.
Bun Chhay, in an Aug 26 telephone interview from the O'Smach area, said his strategy
had been to allow CPP forces to advance so Funcinpec loyalists could surround them
and cut off their supply lines.
"I am not worried," he said. "This is our tactic, our strategy, to
let them get inside the area easily and then open up on them from high ground.
"In the next five days, Hun Sen's troops will be pushed down the hill because
we are now cutting their supply lines," added Bun Chhay, who said he was suffering
a renewed bout of malaria.
The presence at O'Smach of KR fighters from Anlong Veng was confirmed by Bun Chhay's
deputy commander, Long Sereyroth, who said the guerrillas were supporting Funcinpec
but not as soldiers.
"The Khmer Rouge are helping us to make and lay mines," said Sereyroth,
speaking through barbed wire at the O'Smach border crossing Aug 25.
He said that just 300 royalist and KR troops were at O'Smach town, but that a total
of 3,000 others had spread out to nearby areas.
A CPP field commander, speaking on Rt 68 south of O'Smach, earlier estimated that
there were about 300 Khmer Rouge in O'Smach, and another 1,000 in nearby areas.
Small groups of unwashed and apparently exhausted royalist KR soldiers near the border
told reporters that they were no longer sure of who was commanding their troops.
But General Sereyroth claimed that key military chiefs, including Bun Chhay and Khan
Savoeun, were in charge of strategic positions.
Funcinpec officials said that Bun Chhay was likely to base himself at an old 1980s
resistance base to the east of O'Smach, while Savoeun is reportedly holding highland
to the west. Fellow commander Serey Kosal is reportedly in Aranyaprathet, Thailand,
to the southwest.
To the east of O'Smach, near Phum Bos village, KR forces were laying new mines and
booby traps every day to thwart advancing government troops, a CPP army commander
Funcinpec military sources also claimed that an ammunition shortage crisis has been
averted because they unearthed arms caches hidden along the border during the UN
peace-keeping mission before the 1993 elections.
Thai military sources said they believed the KR was providing vital support for the
Funcinpec resistance fighters.
In Bangkok, Prince Ranariddh - who had been negotiating a controversial alliance
with Anlong Veng before Second Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted him in early July -
acknowledged that KR forces were fighting with his own.
"It is very natural that the Khmer Rouge are fighting with our forces,"
Ranariddh told Reuters Aug 21, while still denying that any "political or military
alliance" had been signed between Funcinpec and the KR.
Later, in an Aug 27 letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General and
heads of foreign governments, Ranariddh said that the KR fighting with his forces
had defected to the Royal army.
Arguing that the Royal army was divided in two between those soldiers loyal to him
and those to Hun Sen, Ranariddh said that "the former Khmer Rouge which have
joined the Royal army struggling against Hun Sen cannot be considered as Khmer Rouge
He maintained that such KR had declared that they have severed all links to Pol Pot,
that they recognized the Constitution and the King of Cambodia and that they had
been "integrated into the Royal Army of Cambodia".
While Anlong Veng's allegiances to Ranariddh's forces do not seem to be in question,
military observers say that an alliance with the former KR areas of Pailin and Malai
would be of considerably greater significance.
"For pro-Ranariddh troops, the only big hope would have been to have a larger
alliance with the west, with Pailin and Malai," said a military observer.
A KR radio broadcast Aug 15, meanwhile, also claimed support from their former guerrilla
comrades. The broadcast named Nhek Bun Chhay as commander of the Anlong Veng forces,
and Ee Chhean - the governor of Pailin and former KR divisional commander - as his
deputy chief of staff.
Ee Chhean publicly dismissed the radio broadcast, denying that he had any contact
with Anlong Veng or with Nhek Bun Chhay.
The radio broadcast and subsequent denial came after intrigue in Pailin in which
an alleged plot to assassinate Ee Chhean and take over his power was averted.
Bun Chhay said Aug 26 that he would soon meet with military chiefs from the Democratic
National United Movement (DNUM), the movement based in Pailin and Malai and led by
former Pol Pot foreign minister Ieng Sary.
Despite statements from DNUM leaders including Ee Chhean to the contrary, Bun Chhay
said he believed they were "united against Hun Sen".
Meanwhile, the only DNUM soldiers known to have actively joined the fight against
Hun Sen are Iem Phan and Ta Muth, the former son-in-law of KR supreme military commander
A small number of former guerrillas led by Phan and Muth have attacked RCAF troops
in O'Tea village, close to the Thai border in Battambang province. RCAF chiefs said
the pair had only about 50 KR defectors with them.
Military observers said that, without considerable help from DNUM and Anlong Veng,
it would be difficult for Funcinpec to organize themselves if they lost O'Smach.
"Do they have money to pay the salaries of the soldiers? Do they have places
to withdraw to? Do they have villages where they can grow rice?" asked one observer.
"That is what you need for a guerrilla movement. The Khmer Rouge have lasted
this long because they had this organization, this structure."
The observer doubted that DNUM, or even Anlong Veng, would welcome a large number
of Bun Chhay loyalists to settle in their areas.
"It is not so easy for Anlong Veng to tell them to come to their stronghold
and live there. Maybe it is possible for 20 to 50 men, but what about 2,000? That
could create problems in Anlong Veng."