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Homes burnt as soldiers battle rebels

Homes burnt as soldiers battle rebels

Royal Government tanks crushed resistance at a renegade soldiers' squatter camp

last week during a fierce gun battle just two km from Pochentong International

Airport.

Of an estimated 200 squatters, two were killed, six were wounded

and 45 arrested, according to a spokesman for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

The rest are said to have fled.

Some residents, who said they were

innocent bystanders, told how their houses were also burnt down by mistake

during the crackdown.

The firefight lasted for 90 minutes after 250 RCAF

soldiers, three light tanks and an APC moved on the squatters' village at Beng

Krapeu in Stung Meanchey district west of the capital.

Ten AK-47s and

two B-40 rocket launchers were recovered from the scene, which lies between the

airport and the national radio transmitter.

A senior government official

said he believed the rebel soldiers were part of an organized gang which had

stolen UN and NGO vehicles and equipment.

He said a fax machine and more

than a dozen UN vehicle plates were recovered from the scene.

Brigadier

General Prak Sith said the army was called in after the squatters fired shots at

policemen who had asked them to move. One policeman was injured in the

leg.

He added: "During an earlier visit seven policemen were abducted but

later released, their guns were stolen."

Brig Gen Sith said the army was

fired on first and had hit back at the squatters with AK-47s, B-40 rocket

propelled grenades and machine gun fire from the tanks.

The day after the

one-sided battle the charred ruins of the wooden houses, erected by the

squatters in farmers' fields were still smoking and government troops and three

tanks remained on guard.

Dazed and angry families, who said they lived in

houses built along a dirt track leading to the squatters' village, claimed they

had been hapless victims of the security forces.

Man Nee said she, her

husband Hiang Sat and five-month-old baby Heang Polin had been living there for

a year after Sat had been demobilized from the army. He was earning the family a

living by repairing bicycles and motorbikes.

Man Nee said the family had

left their home along with their neighbors after the police warned them they

were about to move on the squatters.

She said: "When we got back to our

houses in the evening we found they had been burnt down by the soldiers with

gasoline.

"They must have done it by mistake thinking we were squatters

too. But we were the ones who called in the police in the first place to remove

the squatters.

"We have no money and nowhere to stay. We will have to

sleep by the road tonight."

Brig Gen Sith denied that surrounding houses

were deliberately set on fire with gasoline and added: "The houses that burned

were hit by gunfire or B-40 rockets.

He said he suspected the squatters

may have been Khmer Rouge infiltrators but he had no evidence to back the

claim.

A small number of the rebel soldiers moved in two months ago, he

said, and began selling 15 metre by six metre plots of land for the ridiculously

low price of 13,000 riel to other demobilized troops.

Brig Gen Sith said

the squatters terrorized the genuine owners of the land, 100 farmers who

acquired small plots to grow rice under a SOC government program.

The

squatters built around 50 wooden houses and some shanty huts in the

fields.

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