An RCAF tank rumbles into Anlong Veng. With nowhere
to run, the KR may be willing to strike a deal.
TTHWARTED from recapturing their former capital of Anlong Veng, all that remains
of the Khmer Rouge - a bunch of diehards on a Khmer-Thai border mountain - are yet
again desperately attempting to mutate themselves into a more acceptable, new-look
"We have totally abandoned the old Khmer Rouge ideology," spokesman Non
Nou told reporters on the Thai border last week in a comment which echoed those of
other KR propagandists in recent years and months.
Amid the first signs that they were prepared to talk peace with the government, the
KR were quick to declare that the demise of Pol Pot represented the death of his
movement as well.
They also claimed that Ta ("Grandfather") Mok - the one-legged guerrilla
chief with a bloody history who had deposed Pol Pot last June - was no longer in
charge. Mok was said to have handed over command of his military forces to general
Khem Nguon, his chief-of-staff, while political control was supposedly given to Khieu
Samphan, the KR's nominal leader for years.
After apparent negotiations with the government failed - because Ta Mok's loyalists
demanded autonomy over Anlong Veng in return for their 'defections' - KR forces moved
to regroup under the banner of Funcinpec general Nhek Bun Chhay's anti-government
In an indication of their desperation, none of the KR's publicity moves were new,
all having been tried before in recent history. "It has been almost one year
since we tried Pol Pot [in an Anlong Veng show trial last July] but since then the
international community has not accepted our movement," bemoaned Non Nou to
the Far Eastern Economic Review in an April 11 interview on the border.
Asking for food and medicine from foreign countries, Nou said the KR were prepared
to hand over Pol Pot to an international tribunal in return. Ta Mok - and Pol Pot
himself - was said to have agreed. Pol Pot's death (naturally or otherwise) four
days later quashed any hopes of that, but the KR's publicity and political machine
swung into action to make the most of it.
With few military options, the KR - knocked out of Anlong Veng toward the Thai border
after the defections of more than 1,000 guerrillas late last month - hinted that
it was prepared to strike a deal with the government.
Negotiations were held - whether directly or through intermediaries, most likely
Thai military officers - with Mok loyalists.
General Meas Sophea, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) deputy chief of staff,
said April 21 that the KR had demanded control of Anlong Veng, "as like Pailin",
and made other requests which he would not reveal. The government had refused.
"The government's principle is to still support the bringing of Ta Mok, Nuon
Chea and Khieu Samphan to an international court, and the lower-ranking cadre can
defect to us if they want," he said, adding that the RCAF preferred to stop
its offensives against Mok's forces and try to solicit defections instead.
Another military source said negotiations had been held with "Ta Nguon"
- presumably Khem Nguon - who is related to Mok by marriage. "That's why Mok
gave the military forces to Ta Nguon, they are related."
The whereabouts of Mok, Chea and Samphan remain uncertain, although virtually all
front-line RCAF commanders claim that they are in Thailand. Their guerrillas - which
RCAF officials estimate at only 200-300 - remain based just inside Cambodian territory
on so-called Mountain 200, about 20km north of Anlong Veng.
After recapturing Anlong Veng on April 2, the KR were pushed out of it by joint offensives
by RCAF and defectors within four days. At Post press time, the government appeared
in firm control of the area, despite ongoing rebel propaganda to the contrary - journalists
in Anlong Veng on the night of April 14 listened to KR radio broadcasts claiming
that they held the town.
The main front-line is still around Schras Chuk, about 5km north, which the government
claimed to have captured Apr 17. One armored personnel carrier, some small arms,
three trucks, two mobile sawmills and six big saws were seized from the fleeing KR,
according to general Pou Sabut Dy, RCAF deputy chief of operations for Siem Reap.
While most RCAF chiefs believed Mok was still ordering his troops, senior government
commander Pou Sabut Dy referred to internal disgruntlement within Mok's own forces.
"As I have heard from the frontlines... I think it was not a trick of Ta Mok
to hand over power to Ta Nguon - because Ta Mok has little territory and he is a
bad man, so nobody wants to follow him."
In the latest twist at Post press time, Mok's soldiers were said to have "defected"
to general Nhek Bun Chhay, who has led Funcinpec resistance forces from the Khmer-Thai
border enclave of O'Smach, about 60km west of Anlong Veng, since last July's fighting
in Phnom Penh.
Bun Chhay, speaking by telephone Apr 22, claimed that a massive 1,600 KR soldiers
"who hate Ta Mok" had defected to his resistance.
Bun Chhay strongly denied that he was joining the KR - "There's no way I would
join with the Khmer Rouge when they are nearly dead," he said - or that he would
allow senior rebels like Ta Mok, Ta Nguon and Khieu Samphan to join him.
In reply to questions, he said he would not abandon O'Smach but would also have the
Anlong Veng area as a base because "the people who have defected to my side
will control Anlong Veng".
It is unclear whether Bun Chhay may seek to include the KR guerrillas in any integration
of the renegade Funcinpec general's troops into the government army. Bun Chhay is
seeking a Royal pardon for himself, so he and his troops can join the government
again; being able to hand over the remnants of the KR may, some observers suggested,
give him added bargaining power.
In apparent three-way negotiations in recent days, sources on the Thai border report
that both Bun Chhay and one of his deputies, general Khan Savoeun, have visited Mok
loyalists near Anlong Veng, while Savoeun has also reportedly been in contact with
Earlier, in an April 17 statement, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced
that he had authorized Savoeun to begin "open, not secret" consultations
with the government over a ceasefire and reintegration of the Funcinpec resistance
But contact between the KR and Bun Chhay's troops may be powerful political ammunition
against Ranariddh, who can be banned from elections if he is associated with any
Ranariddh, before the KR "defections" to Bun Chhay, had already distanced
himself from any cooperation between two resistance forces.
"I would like to reiterate that I do not have any cooperative relations with
the Khmer Rouge and the elements of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces loyal to me
do not have any military links or cooperation with the KR either," the Prince
wrote in his April 17 statement.
Ranariddh, now in Siem Reap visiting his father King Sihanouk, has repeatedly denied
government allegations that Bun Chhay's forces had sent weapons and soldiers to help
Ta Mok, and added: "If there are any troops from the RCAF participating in such
military operations, they are not RCAF troops loyal to me and thus I disassociate