Battlefield strategies tied to peace talks' goals
SIEM REAP - Cambodian government forces are trying to launch a
major military offensive against the Khmer Rouge (KR) to bolster their leverage
during peace negotiations to include the guerrilla faction in the
Military activity throughout the north and west has increased
since the new year as the sides gear up for what could be some of the heaviest
fighting since the Vietnamese withdrawal in late l989.
But the government
has been forced to postpone a major push against KR strongholds at Pailin and
Anlung Veng because of a lack of ammunition and difficulties in adequately
preparing field operations.
KR, government and diplomatic sources agree
that the government hopes to concentrate initially on a major assault on Anlung
Veng, the northern headquarters of the guerrilla faction under the command of
Gen. Ta Mok.
The assault on Pailin has been put on hold for fears they
would not be able to successfully capture the KR stronghold without more
"There is no panic. They are going on with their plans for
the offensive as normal," said a western military source. "They are waiting for
the ammunition and when they get it they will attack Anlung Veng. For Pailin,
they decided to cancel their plans for the moment, they don't speak about Pailin
Both sides acknowledge the imminent fighting is a test of
strength that is designed to influence the leverage each seeks during peace
talks over how to include the KR in the government and the army.
"technical committee" has been established with representatives of both the
government and the KR to hammer out details on integration of the guerrillas
into the government and the army, both sides agree the committee will be
effectively dormant as fighting escalates in coming months.
sides see the military push - expected to begin this month - as designed to gain
political advantage and neither side contends that the offensive, no matter how
successful, could wipe out the KR as a military force.
What is clear is
that peace has been postponed for at least another dry season in Cambodia and
war is seen as inevitable, by both sides, to achieve their longer term political
For the KR, this means a desire for a maximum power sharing
role in the new government and the army. For the government the objective is to
weaken the guerrilla faction to be in a position to give up less at the
"No negotiation is successful at the negotiating table
alone," one KR official said. "What we get depends on the fighting. Of course we
want the maximum but it depends if we can defend ourselves."
acknowledge they may be able to hold Pailin or Anlung Veng in the face of a
well-organized and equipped government attack.
"They will fight, we will
defend the territory but not at any cost. We may lose some areas during the dry
season but we will take it back in the rainy season. At the end we will come out
on top. If they want to try, let them try," he said.
government demanded the KR agree to three points before being given a role in
the new government: an immediate cease-fire; the dismantling of their armed
forces; and turning their territory over to the national government.
They said the KR must agree to an immediate cease-fire before other
issues can be discussed.
The KR have rejected this, saying all the issues
should be addressed simultaneously. They favor a five point plan proposed by
King Sihanouk on Jan. 1.
The plan contains the three government
requirements listed above but proposes simultaneously giving senior government
posts to the KR as well as proposing talks to settle all these issues.
In a press release dated Jan. 6, KR President Khieu Samphan said it was
clear what was required. The KR had to give the government what the government
wanted and the government had to give the KR what the KR wanted.
Samphan said the five point guidelines could not be separated and although they
made national reconciliation possible, the nature of their fulfillment went
against this possibility.
"If one side insists only on the three points,
then the two other points cannot be fulfilled. By the same token, if the DKP
(KR) demands only the two points for itself then the three points cannot be
fulfilled either. In so doing, the five point guideline cannot be materialized,"
He referred to the three points as being "set by the Vietnamese
communists and the Phnom Penh party."
"The three points....are the
opposite to the five point guidelines of His Majesty the King," said Khieu
Samphan. "The former are a scheme aimed at continuing war in Cambodia while the
five points would lead to national reconciliation."
He believed the King
was sincere in his five point offer but, said Khieu Samphan, "the Vietnamese
communists and the Phnom Penh party have been resorting to all sorts of
maneuvers and pressures to ensure that only the three points be singled out, the
aim of which is to dismantle the DKP according to their dark and devil
However, Prime Minister Ranariddh, in a Jan. 10 statement, said
the KR were "not sincere in their so-called desires for peace and national
reconstruction." Ranariddh noted, moreover that he had made clear in his Dec.
28, 1993 letter to Khieu Samphan that the Royal Government "accepts the five
point (plan) proposed" by King Sihanouk.
The prime minister added that
the simple test of the KR's lack of sincerity was that they were refusing to
recognize the Royal Government while insisting at the same time to become
members or advisors in the very same government.
Senior government and
diplomatic sources say government officials have officially requested military
aid from China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and North
Korea but have come up mostly empty-handed.
Russia is said to have given
ten million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and small token contributions from
Malaysia and Singapore may have been acquired. China may also provide some
"We want to start now on Anlung Veng but we are waiting for
ammunition. We don't have enough, we hope we will have ammo in a few short
days," said Gen. Tuon Chhay in an interview on Jan. 7.
He is the governor
of Siem Reap province and military commander of the 4th Military Region which is
in charge of the key provinces of Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and
parts of Oddar Meanchey.
It is here that KR commander Ta Mok, in control
of 12 Divisions, has his headquarters. He is said to control at least 3000
regular troops, plus militia and until recently was based at Anlung
Government forces claim to have 16,000 men under arms in military
Gen. Toan Chhay outlined the strategy of the two sides in
the coming weeks: "As a whole, the KR know we are about to launch the operation
against Anlung Veng for our self-defense. In the meantime they want to occupy
and capture the district at Choam Ksan in Preah Vihear to set up a bridge from a
new headquarters near the tri-border area.
"Once they capture Choam
Ksan, they will launch to capture the whole of Preah Vihear ... We want to
attack Anlung Veng so that they will withdraw their troops, to draw them away
from Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and Kompong Thom to defend Anlung
Veng. If we leave Anlung Veng intact they will send their front-line further,"
In Battambang province, the other major military theater,
commanders spoke of similar problems.
At the government Division 12
headquarters located along Route 5 near the Thai border, troops engaged in heavy
clashes after attacking KR positions along Phnom Malai, north of Pailin. More
than 100 people were killed or wounded in the first five days of the month,
according to commanders.
"We do not have enough ammunition. They said,
maybe we will get more this week," said Gen. Em Saray, deputy commander of the
"Our objective is to destroy the 450 Division but it
depends on the weapons supply. Plans for the attack on Pailin are not clear yet.
The general staff in Phnom Penh has not given us a clear decision
The first week of January also saw significant fighting in the area
between Samrong and the Thai border in northern Oddar Mean-chey province.
KR forces captured the former FUNCINPEC military base at Koam Chong and
burned at least nine villages long under FUNCINPEC influence. Government forces
recaptured the base but the "situation is not calm and remains unclear," said
Gen Toan Chhay.
However, both government and KR sources say the fighting
in this area reflects ongoing local anger over the government attack and capture
of the KR base at Phuum Chhat last August. It is not part of the current,
centrally coordinated government offensive.
"It was a big mistake of the
government to attack Phuum Chhat," said a senior government military official
who asked to remain anonymous. "It made the local people very angry, not just
the KR but the villagers."
Phuum Chhat was the headquarters for KR
Division 519 and served as a civilian base for diplomatic and other personnel
and their families.
Perhaps the most important battle theater may be in
Preah Vihear province, which both government and KR sources say will be a focus
Ta Mok has established a new headquarters north of the
border district of Choam Ksan, after abandoning Anlung Veng in preparation of
the expected government assault.
In an interview on Jan. 7, Preah Vihear
governor and military commander Gen. Mean Sarin said his province was under
daily attack by the KR. He said 500-600 KR have surrounded Choam Ksan, cut all
roads and are "attacking us every day."
He said the morale of the KR
troops was strong and they were well armed. KR reinforcements had been brought
from Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear to participate in the
"The KR really want to fight because they believe in their
leaders. They are not new, but the old cadre," said Gen. Mean Sarin.
said 300 KR had defected in his area but they were mainly recruits from the
"The defections reflect their desire for peace. The old cadre are
waiting for orders. Those that have been with the KR since 1970 are sticking to
the position that the winner of the election should take control of the
government according to international standards," said the general.
say that the KR should get 20 percent of the army, FUNCINPEC 20 percent, CPP 20
percent and the KP 20 percent while 20 percent should be divided among civilian
administration and state bureaucracy," he added.
Preah Vihear is
effectively cut off from government access by land, and 300 government soldiers
are currently trying to open up Route 12 from Kompong Thom to Choam
Equipped with bulldozers, a single mine detector and earth moving
equipment, the troops are clearing 36 kilometers of heavily mined road that
military commanders say must be opened within a month to save Preah Vihear from
Gen. Toan Chhay said: "We are trying to repair Route 12,
otherwise we cannot save Preah Vihear. Our main objective is to defend Choam
Ksan and Preah Vihear, not to capture Anlung Veng.'
Gen. Mean Sarin said
he has 1,970 soldiers in Preah Vihear but currently they are lacking food,
ammunition, medical supplies and other necessities.
say the morale of KR troops remains high in the north.
Gen. Toan Chhay
said: "Morale of their troops is still very good. They are united to defend
themselves. If they are not united they will die together. In the field they are
willing to achieve the orders from their commanders."
"The KR are very
confident," he said. "They are launching a political campaign designed to hang
the government by the throat economically. They count only on their forces and
finally no one loses, no ones wins. The suffering falls on the whole
"For us to lose is very easy, to win very difficult and to
maintain victory, even more difficult," said the general.
sides agree the outcome of the fighting will be crucial to what is finally
decided at the political negotiating table, it is not likely to deal a mortal
blow to the KR militarily.
The KR are prepared to give up fixed bases and
have made contingencies to revert to guerrilla tactics if they lose their main
But more importantly, many analysts say the KR threat
remains primarily a political one. Military assaults can only disperse them into
large tracts of jungles and remote villages that are virtually impossible for
the government to bring under central control by force.
attacks are important as a demonstration of strength," said Gen. Toan Chhay.
"But it is not as important as economic development. We can spend millions of
dollars on tanks and artillery to kill ten KR. Why?"
More alarming to
many officials in the government controlled provinces and other observers, is
the deteriorating security because of crime, widespread corruption by military
and local officials, and the difficulty in implementing rural economic
development to improve the lives of the peasantry.
They say the people
had unrealistic expectations for change after the UN operation in Cambodia and
the government conduct so far has done little to engender faith that things will
It is the KR who will reap the political benefit of
continuing popular frustration, they say.
A KR official said:
"Politically and in terms of morale, they (the government) have no forces in the
"If we didn't have popular strength, they wouldn't even
give us the time of day. But if we are weak militarily, we will never get
anything at the negotiating table. But this is not about the military it is
Despite KR confidence that they can withstand a
government assault, people everywhere are afraid of what the faction really
wants and hatred runs deep for the killings and suffering during the KR years in