Traditionally, Kompong Thom has been an area of friction between the State of Cambodia
(SOC) and the Khmer Rouge (KR). The province is strategically located as the Khmer
Rouge's major supply lines from their secure strongholds along the Thai border pass
through the province to areas of guerrilla operations in Kompong Cham and further
south, crossing Route 6 and then winding their way down to the Tonle Sap. Efforts
by SOC to shut down the supply routes during the dry season have been as regular
as clockwork for many years as much of the area north and south of Route 6 are all
but impassable to vehicles once the rains start.
Military "offensives" in the region have never been initiated primarily
for the purpose of taking and holding territory. From the CPAF point of view their
purpose is more to prevent the permanent establishment of Khmer Rouge forward bases
and to interdict supply lines, to "keep the KR under wraps" as one observer
noted. It's possible that territory gained by CPAF during the recent fighting will
be held for five or six weeks and then given up.
The current CPAF push on Khmer Rouge controlled areas appears to have been four-pronged.
Troops from the 5th division based in Salavichei on Route 12 north of Kompong Thom
city have pushed west, attempting to move artillery positions closer to KR-controlled
villages and within range of the Khmer Rouge 616 division headquarters based in Sakream.
From the south on Route 6 elements of the CPAF 85 regiment moved north, attacking
villages that Col. Sar said had been lost to the Khmer Rouge since the peace accords
Further west in Siem Reap province, CPAF attacked north with tanks and armored personnel
carriers towards the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Khvav, a town with a population of
about 20,000 and one which serves as an important logging center for the Khmer Rouge
as well as a logistical center for the trans-shipment of supplies coming down from
the Thai border for eventual delivery further south. It was from fighting in this
area that civilians fled seeking refuge at the Indonesian-manned cantonment site
It is likely that CPAF also initiated military activity from the north in Preah Vihear
province coming south towards the Khmer Rouge-controlled town of Phum Taseng in Sangkum
Thmey district as a means of keeping KR troops from reinforcing other "fronts"
under assault, although the Post could not confirm specific details of engagements
in this region.
Due to problems of both maintaining supplies and morale, CPAF has had difficulties
in sustaining any prolonged military activity in Kompong Thom. Some troops brought
in from other provinces and who are unfamiliar with the local terrain have been known
to desert after several days at the front. Areas of contention are also sparse-ly
populated and not major rice-growing regions, thus making the sustained expenditure
of scarce resources difficult to justify. In previous dry seasons, the Khmer Rouge
have also found ways to draw off State of Cambodia for-ces by attacking strategic
positions further south in Kompong Cham or elsewhere.
In any event, the recent military "offensive" in one of Cambodia's most
troubled provinces should come as no surprise-it's happened before, and the advance
preparations for a military offensive of this size were most likely readily apparent
to all parties concerned.