NEGOTIATIONS between the Royal Government and the breakaway Khmer Rouge faction in
the northwest may result in a reduction of the KR's fighting strength by as much
At the Post's press time negotiations were continuing, but a senior RCAF source said
he expected all KR units based in Cambodia's northwest to switch allegiance to the
Royal Government by the end of September.
Of the 22 divisions which make up the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK),
eight, including two of its strongest, have been directly involved in talks with
the government, while another two based in Pursat and Koh Kong provinces are expected
to enter negotiations within a few months.
Western military observers say the "defections", if they can be sustained,
will effectively neutralize Khmer Rouge resistance in the northwest of Cambodia,
isolating the remaining KR forces within a thin strip of territory along the Thai
border between Anlong Veng in Siem Reap and Preah Vihear province.
In all, as many 4,000 KR troops may have split from the Maoist group which has waged
war against successive Phnom Penh governments since 1979.
"These developments could have an enormous impact on the KR's fighting machine,
weakening them militarily and economically," said one western military source
who requested anonymity.
"However, nothing firm has developed yet and many questions remain unanswered.
This is not a defection in the usual sense of the word, so just what is the deal?
Will they keep their weapons, will the government be granted access to these areas?
No one knows yet and much of what has been said could easily be misinformation.
"It's far to early to draw any concrete conclusions."
Nontheless, it seems improbable that the Khmer Rouge, even if negotiations fail,
can remain a cohesive fighting force for much longer. Analysts say its ammunition
stocks are low and it was forced to conserve heavy artillery shells during the last
dry season offensive.
Those analysts also point to the use of "punji" stakes and home made mines
to replace dwindling stocks of manufactured land mines. Foreign intelligence sources
are now convinced the flow of weapons from China has dried up and weapons must now
be bought on the Thai and Cambodian black markets, or from the KR's foe, the Cambodian
In all, the Khmer Rouge is believed to have between seven and ten thousand troops,
with three to four thousand in the Pailin-Phnom Malai region, three to four thousand
in the northern command centered on its Anlong Veng stronghold and the remainder
scattered around the country.
NADK divisions 415 and 450 have been involved in negotiations with RCAF deputy chief
of Staff, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Co-Defense Minister Tea Chamrath since late June.
According to sources the commanders of both divisions agreed to switch allegiance
to the Royal Government in early August.
Cambodian military intelligence estimates Division 415, under the command of Mit
Chien and based at Pailin, consists of 1500 soldiers and 13,000 civilians.
In Khmer Rouge terminology, the word civilian includes non-combatant troops tasked
with logistic and other support roles.
Division 450, under the command of Sok Pheap and based at Phnom Malai, consists of
900 troops and 8,500 civilians, but western observers claimed the figures for both
units seemed unrealistically high.
Any estimate of the exact number of troops who have switched allegiance is further
complicated by unconfirmed reports that fighters from both units are said to have
joined Front 250 which is commanded by Ny Korn.
Ny Korn, whose command includes NADK Divisions 320, 705, 948 and 531 which are located
in territory between Pailin and Phnom Malai, remained loyal to ideological hard-liners
Ta Mok and Son Sen following the KR's denunciation of Ieng Sary.
Negotiations finalizing the "defections" of Divisions 415 and 450 were
concluded in the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet in early August, but they remained
under threat from divisions making up Front 250 which, according to Thai press reports,
mounted both ground and artillery attacks on their former comrades.
However, Ny Korn met with senior RCAF officers on August 11 to talk about terms and
conditions of his command's "defection" to the Royal Government, but at
press time no details of any settlement were available.
In addition, according to Cambodian military intelligence reports, NADK divisions
518 and 519, consisting of about 600 combat troops and based in Banteay Meanchey
province were also prepared to switch allegiance as of mid-August.
The apparent domino effect following the breakaway of Divisions 415 and 450 may even
have spread as far east as Kratie province, where 70 KR defectors are said to have
surrendered to provincial authorities on or about August 13.
Ministry of Information spokesman, Sieng Lapresse, said the group had quit their
base in Chlong on the border of Kratie and Kompong Cham.
"This is a very symbolic defection," Lapresse said. "This area is
the cradle of the Khmer Rouge, but it had become isolated from the central command.
"RCAF has cut their supply and communications lines through Kompong Thom province
and the news from the west was demoralizing. Like everybody else these guys became
tired of the fighting - tired of no medicine and no schools for their children."
But Ministry of Defense spokesman, Chum Sambath, said he had not heard of the Kratie
"I do not think it is true," he said.
Nonetheless, several international observers, while cautious in predicting the exact
outcome of the ongoing negotiations in Cambodia's northwest, agreed they were of
"This is a very significant chunk of territory for both the Royal Government
and the Khmer Rouge ideological hard-liners. This area is the principle axis of the
KR's economic strength as a result of timber and gem trading - this is the heart
of their economic power," said one.
"Strategically the territory the KR now control has been slashed in half - communications,
logistics and transport, the ability to shift troops and political cadre will be
very much more difficult.
"[But] those people who are declaring the Khmer Rouge dead know little about
Cambodian history or the history of the KR. The KR has managed to survive as a force
to be reckoned with, despite its tradition of splits and internal purges - a tradition
which goes back to the organization's very beginnings in the Indo-Chinese Communist
movement of the 1930's.
"That region [the north-west] has never been under the control of the central
government - it's the "wild west" with brigands making their own deals
and doing their own thing...
"Given the terrain, and the independence these units appear to be demanding,
they can stay relatively autonomous and that would be typical of the pattern of multiple
warlord fiefdoms which have dominated that part of the country for a thousand years."