Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hostage fears rise as troops tighten net

Hostage fears rise as troops tighten net

Hostage fears rise as troops tighten net

HOPES appeared to be fading last week for 15 negotiators who never returned from

their Valentine's Day mission to Anlong Veng. For the first time, a senior Funcinpec

official said he was pessimistic about the fate of the team and said that the King

agreed with him.

Troops were reported moving on the guerrilla base as sniping between the ruling parties

continued and a last-ditch delegation was reportedly sent to Thailand to meet with

the hardliners.

Toan Chhay, governor of Siem Reap and a senior member of Funcinpec party appeared

deeply concerned about the well-being of the team.

Asked whether he thought the negotiators were still alive, he said that he was not

optimistic. "Its my own feeling. I do not know, but I have no hope," he

said.

He claimed that he was never informed by his deputy governor Hem Bung Heng that he

had planned to lead the negotiating team.

"Why did they land in the Khmer Rouge zone? It is a mistake. Not a mistake of

negotiations - not a mistake to try and bring the Khmer Rouge back to society - that

is very good already," he said. But he maintains that they made a big mistake

by landing in the hostile area. "Since they landed in the KR zone ... its up

to them [the KR] what they want to do."

Meanwhile, five divisions of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) troops were reportedly

moving on the guerrilla stronghold last week, but commanders were keeping a watchful

eye on each other to make sure they were advancing too.

A diplomatic military attaché said that Funcinpec divisions 9 and 2 have been

reinforced by divisions 11, 15 and 13. But, he explained, because of mutual distrust

between these divisions, each is being kept apart, "to see who betrays them

and doesn't follow orders," he said.

The order to attack Anlong Veng was reportedly given Mar 11, but progress appears

slow. Military sources in Siem Reap claimed that 6,000 troops have amassed around

the hardliners stronghold. Another RCAF source said that an additional 5,000 troops

were being sent in from Kompong Thom and military region 2. At least 800 heavily-armed

troops were sighted on Mar 12 moving northwards from Banteay Serei towards Svay Leu.

Region 4 deputy commander Long Serea Roth claimed that the troops were not sent to

engage the KR, but were just sent to cut food and medicine supplies from government-controlled

villages.

Meanwhile, the political vitriol has become more acrid in speeches made by the two

Prime Ministers over whether the 15 negotiators missing since Feb 14 are alive.

Hun Sen said Mar 13 that, according to "80 percent reliable" reports he

received, only three members of the group were still alive.

He questioned the logic of sending negotiators to Anlong Veng. "This is not

going to negotiate, but to be held hostage," said Hun Sen.

"[The] negotiations with Ta Mok ... [are] not the responsibility of the Royal

Government because Ta Mok is in the KR political and military organization which

was outlawed. So who is responsible for this tragedy?," asked Hun Sen.

On the same day, Khan Savoeun, commander of the 4th military region and one of the

main links between Anlong Veng and the government, argued that the 15 were still

alive and insisted that he had contact with them on Mar 12.

"How [do] these people know they were killed? Did they see by their own eyes?"

Savoeun asked. "When I heard that rumor, I called them to make sure they were

alive... They are well but Mr Phal has a fever."

Toan Chhay said he spoke with King Sihanouk in Beijing in early March.

"The King told me: 'You are a general. If anyone asks you to negotiate with

Ta Mok in Anlong Veng, you have got to refuse completely and tell them [KR] to come

and ask me to authorize you... When the Prime Minister asks you to go to talk, you

have got to refuse, and tell him to come and ask my permission,'" he recalls.

Quoting the King during his visit, Chhay recited an old Khmer saying: 'You go ask

for fire from the giant' - a proverb which means the giant will eat you , he said.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, meanwhile, said the group was still well and alive. He

defended the decision to send the negotiators to obtain peace.

Ranariddh's adviser, Xavier d'Abzac, said that for Pailin and Malai months and months

of negotiations were needed before being able to create an atmosphere of confidence.

"[For] Anlong Veng, it was really difficult to start to talk with Ta Mok. Ta

Mok is not really a reputable guy. We need time, calm and confidentiality to succeed,"

he said.

He said that troop movements were a good way to exert pressure for a decision, but

he said that bloodshed must be avoided.

"Anlong Veng does not have any future. For people in Anlong Veng, it is the

end. The KR are dead after the split. Some can try to play 'extra time', but they

have no way out."

During a broadcast on KR radio Mar 17, a man claiming to be RCAF Division 9 commander

Min Pin, a member of the team, said the hostages were all alive and well.

The man said the KR feared the same kind of "deceitful" negotiations as

in Pailin, Malai and Samlot, and he urged that discussions be very cautious. He urged

his RCAF division not to attack.

At press time, no one in Funcinpec could confirm whether it was Pin's voice on the

radio.

Toan Chhay, Khan Savoeun and Long Serea Roth were said to have left Siem Reap on

Mar 17 for a clandestine meeting in the Thai province of Ubon Ratchatani.

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