P URSAT/BATTAMBANG - The Khmer Rouge are planting explosives and making hit and run
attacks around Route 5 in a bid to deny military supplies to the dry season frontlines.
Bridges and culverts have been blown, at least one truck fired upon and large numbers
of guerrillas reported in several neighboring districts.
Route 5, stretching from Phnom Penh to Battambang, is a vital supply line for government
forces pushing toward KR-controlled Pailin.
Provincial authorities in Pursat say the security situation in the province is worse
than at any time since 1993, particularly in Krakor district between Route 5 and
the Tonle Sap lake.
Second deputy governor Pech Sokhin said last week that the KR was gathering forces
to cut Route 5 at several points in Krakor. Two bridges had been severely damaged
by saboteurs in the district in four days in late February.
"The Khmer Rouge are very determined and they've changed their tactics - now
they are also burning schools and the houses of people who don't support them,"
Pursat's chief of provincial police, Colonel Yin Ngean, agreed with Pech Sokhin's
assessment and added that his forces faced about 500 active KR troops mobilizing
to cut route 5.
About 100 of those had gathered in small, mobile units in the south of Krakor and
in Kravanh district.
"We have them contained in this area, but the terrain is very difficult - they
can slip past quite easily," Colonel Ngean said.
"Their strategy has three objectives - to disrupt development, to tie down government
forces and to cut Route 5.
"We are doing are best to secure the province," he said," but the
offensive in the northwest of the country means I have fewer resources."
Unofficially, provincial authorities are maintaining an open door policy to encourage
further defections from the KR, but one recent defector who spoke to the Post said
those remaining were highly motivated.
Chiv Ith, who until January was with the KR's 5th Division, said his former commanders
were interested in a political solution to end Cambodia's war, but wanted to bargain
with the government from a position of strength.
Ith said his former comrades had been convinced by their commanders that they were
fighting to free Cambodia from Vietnam's influence.
"They have a strong belief in what they are doing," he said, though he
added that many KR soldiers were "confined to camp to prevent contact with Cambodians
who are sympathetic to the government."
Ith supported long-standing allegations that the KR were able to receive supplies
from Thailand and buy ammunition from their enemy - the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces
- in Cambodia.
"They have plenty of food and medicine from Thailand. Their equipment is a bit
old but [the KR] can buy plenty of ammunition in Cambodia."
He said he had rode on a 30-truck convey carrying supplies from Thailand last June.
He was unable to give any specific examples of the KR buying bullets from the RCAF,
but believed that was the case.
Ith said the KR in Pursat were well-financed. "Money is not a problem [for the
rebels] - I never saw any beggars in the areas they control."
In Kravanh, authorities said the KR made money from logging - with timber transported
to Koh Kong and sold to unknown buyers - and quarrying stone.
Chav Khan, the district chief, said: "We estimate they cut five thousand cubic
meters of timber last year and we have seen large numbers of trees marked for logging
In Battambang province, KR were reported to have moved down Route 10 - which goes
to Pailin - to Mong Russei district near Route 5.
"Every week the Khmer Rouge carry homemade mines and ammunition in the south
of the district," said Nuon Say of Battambang provincial police. "It's
difficult to guess how much has been carried but in February they [were seen] using
three ox-carts to move from one place to another."
Their aim was to disrupt supplies and RCAF reinforcements traveling up Route 5 through
"Mong Russei is like a man's throat. If you cut it, it dies," said Say.
Officials estimated there were 150-200 KR in Mong Russey, after guerrillas from KR
Division 705 joined Division 36 forces usually based at Boss Dong mountain on the
Explosives have been planted on Route 5 and in mid-February about 35 men were reported
to have attacked a cement truck. According to a district report, the men were dressed
in police uniforms purchased from a local market.
Security is particularly bad near at Prek Chit, 52km south of Battambang town near
the border with Pursat province, about 10km from Route 5.
"There are 50 Khmer Rouge to the south and 50 more to the north," said
Sok Saluet, commander of 8th Division RCAF soldiers based at Prek Chit. "They
are within eight kilometers of here."
KR activity increased after RCAF began its offensive toward Pailin, and "they
are more numerous than last year and they usually move in bigger groups than they
Ouk Kong, deputy district chief of Mong Russei, whose home town is Prek Chit, said
the dry season situation had been the same for years.
"Each year, it is always the same thing. The Khmer Rouge always come back."