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Hopes for O'Smach ceasefire shot down

Hopes for O'Smach ceasefire shot down

HOPES for a temporary ceasefire to put an end to the dry season offensive

in O'Smach faded at the start of the new year as government forces continued their

two-week siege on the resistance stronghold.

Artillery and mortar fire continued to batter the resistance-held center of town

on an almost daily basis in the days following opposition politician Sam Rainsy's

Dec 20 announcement that he had obtained a ceasefire agreement in principle from

Cam-bodia's main political players.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen officially scotched Rainsy's efforts a week later.

"I would like to reaffirm my position," Hun Sen told journalists in Sihanoukville.

"I will not accept a one-month or temporary ceasefire. The position of the Royal

Government is to accept a complete ceasefire, and in return, give [resistance members]

back their former positions in government.

"We intend to reach a complete ceasefire, but not to create a situation of holding

talks while fighting," he added.

Hun Sen outlined his own conditions for a halt to the fighting - a series of demands

that would amount to Prince Norodom Ranariddh's loyalists effectively raising a white

flag and laying down their weapons.

Mol Roeup, the Second Prime Minister's military adviser, suggested such a ceasefire

would be easy enough to put into place. "A ceasefire would not be complicated

like the Paris Peace Accords. It would be easy, if [the resistance] wanted to stop

fighting," he said.

He said resistance commanders must call off their attacks, count up their troops

and weapons and report the information to the government. Resistance forces and their

arms stockpiles would then be integrated back into RCAF, he said.

Prince Ranariddh must also cancel his claims that he appointed Nhek Bun Chhay as

RCAF Chief of General Staff in the wake of the July fighting, and the resistance

must stop working with the Khmer Rouge, he added.

A special representative of Prince Ranariddh had already rejected similar demands

in an interview the previous day. "Remember the people [at Tang Krasaing military

base] who surrendered and then had to drink sewage water? Lay down your guns? No

way," Lu Laysreng said during his recent visit to Phnom Penh.

The self-exiled Funcinpec official asserted that Hun Sen is causing himself political

damage by continuing to order attacks on O'Smach at a time when political solutions

are necessary to resolve Cambodia's problems.

"It will be very difficult to convince him [to stop fighting], and it will be

a very big mistake for him to continue to use force," Lu Laysreng said.

He and other supporters of the Prince expressed confidence that the government will

not take O'Smach - surrounded by Thailand on three sides - through military means.

"[Nhek Bun Chhay] will stay there forever if this thing continues on,"

Lu Laysreng said.

On the other side of the battle front, hundreds of additional CPP-led troops have

been mobilized, many from Hun Sen's home province of Kampong Cham, for the latest

government push.

The estimated 3,000 RCAF troops are also now backed up by more heavy weaponry, brought

to the hills of O'Smach in an effort to break the resistance's grip on the border

town.

Sam Rainsy, in a Dec 30 open letter sent from France, expressed concerns that continued

fighting will disrupt preparations for elections slated for July 26. "There

are only seven months to go until the scheduled elections," he wrote. "Instead

of using military force to try... to impose a questionable and short-lived solution

to the present conflict, why not wait for the Cambodian people to democratically,

legally and definitively end the conflict and possibly lay the foundation of a new

regime in July 1998?"

He also expressed disappointment with Hun Sen for rejecting the peace proposal and

blasted those who "send countless young and innocent people to die on [Cambodia's]

battlefields".

Sam Rainsy has also made public a letter he wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,

warning of a dark future for Cambodia's transition toward democracy should fighting

continue.

"The launching of large military offensives and the intensification of combat

which is facilitated by the dry season, foreshadows increasing political violence,

a deterioration of the human rights situation around the country and the appearance

of new problems likely to compromise the free choice of voters," he wrote.

"My intimate conviction is that the UN, under your high authority, is up to

the task of bringing all of Cambodia parties to conclude and respect a ceasefire."

RCAF Chief of General Staff Ke Kim Yan claimed, however, that the government has

no choice but to fight resistance forces who would otherwise destabilize the nation

and elections.

"Government forces must defend themselves. If [the resistance] wants to participate

in elections they must join RCAF. Then, the problem will be finished," he said

in a Dec 26 interview. "There must not be two armies, there must not be territorial

division and each party must not have its own forces."

Back at the frontlines on the outskirts of O'Smach, government soldiers expressed

dismay over the political stalemate. "When I heard rumors about negotiations

for a New Year's ceasefire I was so happy. But one day later we received orders from

the top to fight again," said Chun Cheth, a soldier who was accompanying a wounded

companion out of O'Smach as artillery rang out in the background.

The political wing of the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng has thrown its support behind

a ceasefire, making a surprising call Dec 29 for open peace talks including all Cambodian

factions.

"All sides in Cambodia must immediately meet together and discuss reunification

and the formation of a national government that includes all sides," Khmer Rouge

nominal leader Khieu Samphan said during a rebel radio broadcast. "We don't

have to meet secretly, we have nothing to hide from our nation, people or the world

community."

Hours later, the government opened its guns on O'Smach yet again.

The Khmer Rouge push for peace from Anlong Veng followed a similar call from former

rebel forces in Pailin.

In a letter to King Norodom Sihanouk that followed the start of the government's

offensive, Democratic National Union Movement leader Ieng Sary said the grouping

had decided to back the monarch's calls for peace during a Dec 17-19 gathering in

Pailin.

"We are determined to do our utmost to contribute to ending once and for all

to the war which ravages Cambodia," wrote Ieng Sary.

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