KOH KONG - While the floor of Koh Kong's provincial hospital is no softer than the
old and rusty bed Samnang was given, it is cooler, offering some relief to his blazing
Samnang, a 23-year-old soldier from Military Regiment 911, lay on the ground delirious
with cerebral malaria until medical staff finally helped him back to his bed - a
piece of wood with no covers.
Samnang and four other patients are part of the elite regiment who were sent to Thmor
Da in early December to push back advancing resistance forces from Koh Kong province.
Seasoned former Khmer Rouge fighters among the resistance had battered government
forces and their morale, reportedly causing some to flee their positions. The push
was only halted by the arrival of Regiment 911.
"Without our intervention the resistance and the Khmer Rouge would have captured
the entire province," Samnang said. "We intervened [just] in time. The
Khmer Rouge moved very fast through Mondul Sima district last October," he said.
Mondul Sima is the Koh Kong district nearest to Thailand, south of Thmor Da.
Samnang said when they arrived about 80 Khmer Rouge soldiers were harassing the 1,700
strong government force.
"They [forces loyal to Hun Sen] could not defeat the Khmer Rouge. It is very
hard," he said.
Deputy Chief of General Staff Meas Sophea has claimed the government has made gains,
saying that only 64 resistance soldiers - most of whom came from the hardline Khmer
Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng - remain in the area. He said 11 resistance soldiers
had decided to join the forces sent from Phnom Penh because "they were tired
Serei Kosal, the tough-talking resistance commander for the southern border area,
said 500 former Khmer Rouge soldiers from Thmor Da joined up with the resistance
after they took the area in October. He also claimed 20,000 civilians from Thmor
Da, Chor Mouy and O'Tea had entered into Thailand to join the resistance.
"The government always minimizes the number of our soldiers. But how could we
hold Thmor Da against more than 1,000 government troops otherwise?" he said.
Kosal - who along with resistance military leader Nhek Bunchhay is wanted by a Phnom
Penh court for illegal arms importation and colluding with the Khmer Rouge - said
he and ex-Khmer Rouge commanders Iem Phan and Ta Muth, have also been holding Samlot
town and Thmor Da with the help of the former commander of Thmor Da, Sok Mat.
However Meas Sophea said that the government had abandoned Thmor Da because the area
was "useless" and they preferred to fight three km away.
Landmines have remained effective in stopping advancing government soldiers, but
it has been the malaria that has knocked out as many soldiers as guns according to
Samnang said troops usually began fighting at about 7 AM and stopped as soon as the
night fell because of the prevalence of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Srey Sok, one of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces medical assistants in Thmor Da, who
himself has contracted malaria, said 95 per cent of the troops loyal to Hun Sen are
suffering from the disease.
"Some suffer from minor malaria but others are devastated by cerebral malaria,"
Sok said government forces have been short of medical supplies. He said that he has
had to purchase his own medication and has recieved little support from his superiors.
"Since I arrived in the provincial hospital I haven't received any help from
my commander to ease my pain. The government should help us if we get sick from the
war," he said.
Major General Chea Saran, RCAF's chief of military operations, admitted that government
troops lack some medical supplies but he said they were trying to solve the problem.
"We cannot afford to let soldiers die," he said.
However by the end of October and the beginning of January seven government soldiers
had died and 23 were injured around Thmor Da, mostly victims of landmines, Srey Sok
Meas Sophea said he could not give an official tally of his troops lost in battle
since the end of October, but he said the government recently lost four soldiers
in a mid-January ambush on a military truck which caused seven other injuries.
Serey Kosal had a different account of the fight. He said that 12 soldiers were killed
and six others were arrested and sent to a refugee camp in Trat province.
Kosal claimed that all of the soldiers were under 18-years-old and had been forced
to join Hun Sen's military effort.
He also claimed that Prince Ranariddh's loyalists were branching out and would begin
to launch guerrilla attacks around Koh Kong and in areas close to Battambang province.
Such threats are meaningless to Samnang, who claims that RCAF's superior numbers
could overwhelm the resistance forces if it wasn't for the differing allegiances
of the forces fighting for Hun Sen.
"There are so many different troops: Funcinpec, former Khmer Rouge, KPNLF, CPP.
How can we distinguish them all in this jungle?" he asked.
Government forces could easily defeat their enemies if they had the same goals and
did not suspect many of their present military allies of having sympathy for former
resistance allies they are now ordered to fight.
He said the different groups were divided on what strategy to adopt. "Some officials
want to fight but others want to negotiate. So we are divided and it is difficult
to be strong against our enemy," he said.
Meas Sophea claimed that sufficient will exists among his troops. "Even if there
are different factions they are united against the Khmer Rouge hardliners and Prince
Ranariddh," he said.