BANTEAY MEANRITH-Bewildered doves soared overhead and yellow butterflies flitted
across the grass as the Khmer People's National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF)
presented more than a quarter of their military for cantonment on a soccer field
here last week.
The motley 2,778-strong host of both sexes, some in fatigues and others in civies,
lined up on three sides of the field and knelt as bonzes chanted peace prayers from
a small pavilion.
The guerrillas brought an array of largely ancient and rusting carbines, assault
rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and mortars-7,648 in total-most
of which would probably be more dangerous to the user than the target.
More impressive were nine field artillery pieces, a T-54 tank , and an armored personnel
carrier-all captured from Phnom Penh government forces, according to a senior KPNLAF
officer in the dusty settlement a stone's throw from Thailand.
But the Phnom Penh officers who flew in here to watch the ceremony greeted their
erstwhile foes warmly.
KPNLAF leader Gen. Sak Sutsakan-one of Lon Nol's top commanders during the 1970-75
civil war-and UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi praised the former fighters for laying down
"As Gen. Sutsakan has said, fighting is easy but keeping peace will be much
more difficult," said Akashi, while noting with regret that the Khmer Rouge
remains the only faction refusing to canton and disarm.
Akashi and his military commander, Lt. Gen. John Sanderson later released a handful
of doves into the air, with the Australian officer proving himself a dab hand in
Gen. Dien Del, a legendary figure in the Lon Nol army and the KPNLAF, voiced concern
at the Khmer Rouge attitude and admitted that his forces were keeping back some of
their better equipment and men for self defense.
"If UNTAC can protect us 100 percent, we wouldn't need soldiers
out of cantonment," he said.
But he noted that the KPNLAF was committing more than half its forces to cantonment
and would eventually boost this to 70 percent in accordance with the peace pact.
Around 5,700 guerillas, including those who turned up at Banteay Meanrith, were due
to be registered for cantonment.
Putting the commitment into perspective, Gen. Dien Del noted that total KPNLAF guerilla
forces were between 10,000 and 11,000.
The KPNLAF-a breakaway military wing of former prime minister Son Sann's nationalist
faction-formally started registering guerrillas for cantonment last month. As of
Monday 3,114 KPNLAF troops had been processed against a total 14,299 from the other
three factions complying with Phase II, a U.N. spokesman said.
However, despite the official Khmer Rouge policy, UNTAC has reported that growing
numbers of Khmer Rouge rank and file guerillas have said they want to enter cantonments
while others are defecting.
The cantonment of KPNLAF soldiers is currently proceeding in three border bases-Banteay
Meanrith, Thmar Puok, and Chok Chey. UNTAC plans to launch programs to rehabilitate
the fighters into civilian life once they are demobilized.