W HITE MANGO VILLAGE -Government forces seized Khmer Rouge controlled areas
around the key guerrilla stronghold of Pailin in an artillery and tank led
attack of 5,000 government troops.
More than 20,000 KR fighters and
civilians fled to Thailand by March 21. But KR units with heavy weapons still
control many surrounding mountains and continue to operate in small units in the
area. Government forces are positioned in isolated jungle outposts that analysts
say will be difficult to hold once the rains set in next month.
went off the air for 48 hours, returning with music on 22 March. All regularly
scheduled programming was still suspended at press time. It was the first time
ever that KR broadcasts had been interrupted. Analysts speculated that the
station was dismantled and moved to a secure location during the
The refugee flow to Thailand was the heaviest since 1985, and
forced new pressures on Thailand already under enormous international pressure
to halt logistical and other support to the KR.
KR sources confirmed to
the Post that they are facing increasing difficulties maintaining Thai support
to their faction. They say troop and ammunition movements through Thailand to
various KR bases located along the 800 km border have been disrupted.
an unusual movement, about 800 KR troops moved from areas around Pailin towards
the Tonle Sap lake in the days before the military offensive, according to
foreign defense analysts and government officials. They say that the forces may
launch guerrilla activities further in the interior or set up new bases in KR
KR officials told the Post in January, prior to the
assault on Pailin, that they would not attempt to hold the area in the face of a
concerted government military assault. Instead, they said, they have adopted a
new military strategy, ordered by the high command to be employed throughout the
countryside, that will rely on small unit guerrilla tactics. They say that when
the rains commence they will isolate government units by cutting supply lines,
forcing a retreat from areas captured during the dry season, which traditionally
favors a government assault using tanks and supplies moved by
"We will lose some areas, including maybe Anlong Veng and
Pailin," said the KR official," But by the end of the fighting, we will have
more territory than we have now. We will attempt to hold our areas but not at
any cost. If they want it, they can have it. But they can't keep it for
KR officials acknowledge that the loss of Pailin, their official
headquarters, will be a political blow to the group, but they contend it is of
little military significance.
Foreign military analysts warned that the
area is difficult to maintain secure supply lines, especially as the rains
begin, and government positions remain vulnerable to KR
"It is suicidal," said one foreign military intelligence
analyst, "The mountains, minefields and jungles make the approach very
"With the KR strength at 3,000 and the government strength at
5,000, it goes against all the rules of fighting guerrillas. The ratio should be
at least three to one. This is impossible."
Government commanders remain
painfully aware of the disastrous offensive in Anlong Veng last month, where
hundreds of government soldiers were killed and wounded only to lose the KR
stronghold after a few days.
"The situation here is completely different
than Anlong Veng," the governments main field commander, Gen Pol Sarouen, told
reporters at his jungle command post on March 21.
KR units appeared to
have mounted a tactical retreat from the low lying areas, such as Pailin town,
which are surrounded by mountains still under guerrilla control. Government
forces did not occupy Pailin even after the KR withdrew because of fear the
guerrilla's would cut their retreat and rain rockets, mortars, and artillery
from their well defended positions above the town. Gen. Pol Saroeun said less
than 100 KR fighters remained defending the town when government forces advanced
"We have reached Pailin already, but at the moment we are clearing
up the surrounding areas, " he told reporters on 20 March from his jungle
headquarters 23 kilometers from Pailin town.
Six government divisions,
supported by 10 tanks and artillery units, were involved in the three pronged
attack. These included soldiers from both former guerrilla factions and the
Cambodian Peoples Party.
Pol Sarouen said government forces captured
Pailin at 1800 hours on the 19th of March. "It took us only two days to occupy
Pailin", he said. Pol Sarouen claimed he lost only 7 killed and 22 wounded
during the operation and inflicted "more than 100" killed on the guerrilla
forces. He said that no KR forces were captured or surrendered.
claims, and those by other government officials in Phnom Penh in previous days,
were rife with discrepancies and follow a consistent government policy of
propaganda and disinformation that has angered the press, diplomats, and foreign
military observers in recent months.
Dozens of government soldiers
interviewed at front-line positions told conflicting accounts. Some insisted
that Pailin had not fallen to government control as late as March 21. They
complained of lack of water, food, pay, ammunition, and medical
Despite official claims, reporters counted more than 150
casualties admitted to hospitals in Battambang.
"The KR retreated, then
shelled us heavily. A lot of our soldiers were wounded," one government soldier
wounded at the front-line told the Post on March 20.
"Many of us were
wounded. I don't know how many, but a lot. We are in a valley with a lot of
mountains around us. We don't even know where we are," he said.
traveled along bogged down jungle tracks that weave through some of the most
heavily mined areas in the world. Battambang based officials of the Cambodia
Mine Action Center estimate nearly one million mines litter the countryside in
front-line areas between Battambang and Pailin. Hundreds of red skull and cross
bone signs marked minefields along route 10.
In the dirt tracks past
Treng commune, blown vehicles littered the side of paths. Scores of trucks
carried troops, ammunition, and heavy weapons through the jungle towards newly
Wounded soldiers were seen daily returning from the
front. They complained that many wounded were unable to emerge from isolated
positions deep in the jungle.
At a field hospital on Route 10, soldiers
grimaced in pain from shrapnel wounds as medics injected morphine. Nearby a
weary grunt, Chan Tha,23, complained of difficult conditions at his front-line
"The KR have many artillery in the hills. We have no water. All the
water sources are poisoned. Six days ago one of my comrades died of poison
water. Yesterday three of my comrades were killed and four were wounded." He
said that his unit had lost eight from its strength of 19 men.
the soldiers drink the water, they vomit, have diarrhea, and dehydration. Many
almost died," said Tha Chambo, an army medic from Phnom Penh treating wounded at
a makeshift field hospital. Soldiers with shrapnel wounds to the head and legs
lay nearby waiting to be evacuated to Battambang city.
laboratory confirmation has been conducted, soldiers universally believed the
threat and were refusing to drink water sources in the jungle.
controlled Virgin's Breast mountain overlooking Pailin, while government forces
captured the Khmer Rouge 415 Division base at Baby Elephant mountain.