T OMNUB Tanes, Phnom Vour, Kampot- Khmer Rouge defector Colonel Chhuk Rin crawled unarmed to within meters of rebel commander General Paet's base and radioed Paet's right-hand man to defect during the final assault on Phnom Vour [Vine Mountain].
In an interview with the Post on Oct 27, Rin, wearing a government military uniform, said he knew the ICOM radio number of Paet's deputy Colonel So Suvann.
Suvann and other Khmer Rouge fighters "recognized my voice and laid down their guns to come down the mountain with me," Rin said. Paet, it is understood, had already fled.
Government forces praised the Khmer Rouge defectors for their role in the successful capture of Paet's Phnom Vour stronghold.
Government troops even gave back 20 of 22 motorbikes seized from the base when they realized their owners were the very same defectors who had led them up the mountain safely.
Phnom Vour was where the three Western hostages were kept, and Paet had been ensconced there since Pol Pot's time and throughout the Vietnamese occupation.
Commander of RCAF Regiment 71, Brigadier General Prum Savoeurn, said the defectors "have helped us a lot to capture the base... to pave the way for us to reach the mountain top. They showed us mine fields and told us where General Paet's position was..."
Savoeurn explained that 147 of Rin's fighters divided into groups of ten to fifteen to work with Royal Government troops, surrounding the Phnom Vour base to starve the Khmer Rouge out or force them to defect.
Chan Chhoy, a government soldier, described how he was safe during the capture of Phnom Vour.
He said on the day of the offensive the defectors assigned to his unit crawled very close to the sprawling village base, then radioed back to "... come this way... that way... don't go to that place..."
"I am very happy to be safe. If they did not cooperate with us, I might have lost my leg or been killed," Chhoy said.
On Oct 25 Savoeurn said: "On Saturday morning at 5 am of Oct. 22, government special force units, in cooperation with former Khmer Rouge commander Colonel Chhuk Rin and his men, launched a major offensive on the Phnom Vour guerrilla base."
He said the assault took place everywhere around the mountain base for more than three hours.
" My troops reached the sprawling village base on the mountain top where the three hostages had been held."
The general said: " Today [Oct 25] my forces took control of two thirds of the mountain base and tomorrow will take control of the whole mountain."
Later on Oct 26, the general said his soldiers achieved that aim and occupied the guerrilla base.
Rebel leader Paet was the regional commander for three provinces: Kampot, Takeo and Kompong Speu.
Paet had held Briton Mark Slater, 28, Australian David Wilson, 29, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, along with three ethnic Vietnamese and an unknown number of Cambodians following a train ambush on July 27 in which 13 people were killed.
Savoeurn said he sent his soldiers to search for Paet, who fled the mountain on Oct 26.
There were no casualties during the assault, he said.
During the past three days, 216 Khmer Rouge families, totaling 565 people, defected from the base in 60 oxcarts. Some 198 assorted weapons were seized.
In a separate interview with the Post late on Oct 26, deputy commander in charge of military operations for Kep and Bokor districts, Hun Sarat said his regiment seized 38 weapons, two cameras, six radios, two cars, a truck and tractor and 22 motor bikes in the capture of the mountain base."
- Reuters adds from Canberra: Australia considered a commando raid in Cambodia to free three Western hostage held by the Khmer Rouge, Australian sources said Oct 27.
Asked whether an Australian military raid to free the hostages had been considered, a source said: "All options were considered."
"We would not have acted alone," another source said when asked whether Australia would have acted in unison with Britain and France. The sources refused to give further details.
Australian Premier Paul Keat-ing on Oct 27 said the apparent deaths of the hostages was tragic.
"If this is true, this is a very tragic outcome and I would like on behalf of the government to extend my condolences to David Wilson's parents and to anyone so affected by this tragedy," Keating told reporters.
"There is obviously a substantial risk for young Australians traveling in Cambodia, particularly in some parts of the country and it is something that we will need to be more vigilant about," he said.