EK PHNOM, Battambang-Government troops narrowly thw-arted an attempt by Khmer Rouge guerrillas to take control of Battambang city via a surprise river attack from the north on Aug 27.
A force of 180 KR guerrillas attacked 45 villages along two 12 and 14 km fronts while they simultaneously captured the major district town of Ek Phnom, according to District Chief Roi Vuthy.
The guerrillas were attempting the 10 km trip south to the provincial capital when they were halted by 80 government Special Forces troops supported by two helicopter-gunships and two APCs, according to Vuthy.
The KR were subsequently pushed back to their Bang Thom base, 14 km northwest of Ek Phnom, according to the district chief.
He said: "It was a big scale offensive...the KR wanted to occupy the district and they would have captured Battambang city if the assistance was late."
And as the Post went to press Vuthy, in an interview with the Post on Sept 2, said: "I fear the KR will launch another attack immediately...
"This is a very big concern...I believe the KR will counterattack us at any time in a similar offensive...I am very very concerned...because my soldiers have insufficient ammunition..."
"Each of my soldiers and police have only 10 or 15 bullets in their guns...I don't want to tell you this...it will be shameful if the KR hear."
The district chief said he has urgently requested the provincial authorities to supply his troops with some ammunition, but to date he has received negative replies.
"Yesterday [Sep 1] I begged my friends for some bullets in a private deal and they gave me three boxes...I will provide them to my soldiers today [Sep 2]."
Keo Tith, a 24 year-old soldier at Damrey Slap checkpoint, in an interview with the Post on Sept 2, said: "I am very concerned because I have only 15 bullets in my gun... the KR told villagers they will come again."
Tith added: "I am here waiting for death...this does not mean that I'm scared of fighting or the KR...I mean that we don't have the ammunition to oppose them."
But Ek Phnom villagers report being unafraid of the KR soldiers who they said did not mistreat them or take their property or enter their houses during the eight hour occupation of the town.
One villager, 45 year old Meas Chean, said she heard KR leaders telling the soldiers during the raid "not to kill [civilians], sin, or take villagers' property."
Chean described how a KR soldier wept and apologized to her after he chased her civilian husband which he mistakenly thought was a government soldier.
But the villagers say they are very worried about being caught-up in future fighting, and each night they pick up their belongings and evacuate their homes and move to Preak Kroch and Daun Teav, one and four km south of Ek Phnom respectively.
In the Aug 27 attack the KR killed two soldiers and occupied Ek Phnom for eight hours burning: a police station; the Ek Phnom chief's office and car; a storehouse with 10 sacks of rice in it; a TV set; and two motorbikes and 5 bicycles of the chief's staff, according to Vuthy.
The Khmer Rouge mobilized their troops from Moung, Mongkol Borei, Battambang districts and other places along the Tonle Sap lake for the raid, according to Vuthy
Fighting erupted everywhere in the Ek Phnom district as the guerrilla force arrived in 80 boats from the Sangke river at 4:30 am on Aug 27, according to local villagers.
Vuthy said: "The KR attacked 45 of the 47 villages in the district. They started to simultaneously attack every main position in my district which overlaps both sides of the Sangke river..."
Vuthy explained how on the eastern side of the river the guerrillas launched an offensive along a 14 km front upon seven villages stretching from Back Amreak to Ou Ta Eth.
He said along the western side of the river the KR attacked six villages along a 12 km front from Preak Troap to Ek Phnom town itself.
The district chief described how when the KR attacked Ek Phnom town he called by radio to other parts of the district to get reinforcements. But he said the other government troops stationed in the district were unable to help him because they also reported being under heavy attack
"I was in my office while the guerrillas opened fire on the town... from the east. Later they occupied the hospital and continued heavily attacking the police and soldiers' positions.
"We spent 20 to 30 minutes counterattacking the KR until we ran out of bullets. At that time we had insufficient ammunition to hold the town so I withdrew my 17 police, 27 soldiers and nine administrative staff to Preak Kroch village.
"We retreated because our bullets had run out, but we did not surrender to the KR. We were still in a group and I ran [3 km south] to Daun Teav to borrow an ICOM [radio] from my friend to ask for assistance from the province," Vuthy said.
The district chief added that after capturing Ek Phnom the guerrillas attempted to continue towards Battambang city but retreated when some 80 Special Forces troops, traveling in two trucks and two armored personnel carriers supported by two helicopter-gunships, arrived in Daun Teav village, six km north of Battambang city.
"They [the KR] retreated immediately with no counter-offensive upon the Special Forces," Vuthy said.
"We used the two helicopter-gunships and two APCs to push them back from the district position.
"While they retreated the helicopter-gunships followed to shell on them. We cleared them out [of Ek Phnom and pushed them back to Bang Thom] after eight hours."
He said it was reported unofficially by the villagers that 17 KR soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded by the helicopter-gunship's shelling.
Among the two government soldiers who died, one was identified as the deputy commander of EK Phnom district, Mao Ban and the other was Yun Yong, a soldier at the Back Amreak checkpoint. Vuthy said eight civilians were wounded during the raid.
Though the atmosphere was relaxed in Ek Phnom village on Sept 2, occasional gunfire and mortar shelling could be heard in the distance and chief of the district and most of the soldiers admitted they were worried about a possible KR counterattack.
From Preak Troap to Ek Phnom town, government soldiers, police and militias were deployed along the Sangke river in groups of between five to seven per km. They cooked and grilled fish and snakes for their meals.
Villager Chhean said: "I am very scared of the fighting from both sides...I don't fear the Khmer Rouge, but I have to escape the bullets."