Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New unifies govt army assaults KR

New unifies govt army assaults KR

New unifies govt army assaults KR

SIEM REAP - The recent, well-publicized military offensive in Banteay Meanchey by

the Cambodian Armed Forces (CAF), where the Khmer Rouge were trounced at Phum Chat

with who knows how many fleeing guerrillas transported away by the Thai military

to points south of Aranyapathet, was just one component of a much larger, centrally

coordinated, armed assault on Khmer Rouge positions in northern and north-western

Cambodia. The results of the operation include significant losses of territory and

weapons, around 100 DK "self-demobilized" defectors and a surprised sense

for the new national army that if they work together maybe they can deal with the

Khmer Rouge.

Beyond the attack on the Khmer Rouge stronghold at Phum Chat near the Thai border,

which was finally captured on Aug. 19, CAF units involving forces from the former

CPAF and ANKI armies have moved against NADK positions in Siem Reap and Kompong Thom

provinces as well.

In Siem Reap province, the government is trying to gain control of the strategic

Phnom Kulen mountain north of Siem Reap City by using a two-pronged assault from

both the eastern and western sides of the 30 kilometer-long, mesa-like range.

From Damdek, to the east of Siem Reap, CAF forces have pushed north re-taking the

strategically located Wat Trach, which sits on a 100 meter high hill overlooking

the surrounding rice fields. Further east, government troops have advanced on Phnom

Kulen itself and by Aug. 17 had established positions on the eastern most bluff.

As of Aug. 18 CAF troops were digging in and consolidating their position on the

mountaintop.

The district capital of Svay Leu has also been captured, according to CAF reports,

which was an important Khmer Rouge staging area for the trans-shipment of arms supplies

south to the Tonle Sap. The Khmer Rouge gained control of Svay Leu after the Peace

Accords were signed in Oct. 1991.

"We want to enlarge our territory and let people grow their rice," said

Col. Nim So, CAF commander for eastern Siem Reap province on Aug. 18 at his headquarters

in Popel, 13 kilometers north of Rt. 6. "The people were afraid of the Khmer

Rouge and they couldn't farm."

Col. So said that the Khmer Rouge had press-ganged local villagers into carrying

weapons for the guerrilla army. "The Khmer Rouge take people for one week to

Anlong Veng to carry weapons for them," he said, while estimating that several

thousand villagers in the region had been forced to work for the Khmer Rouge.

According to Col. so about 1,000 CAF troops were involved in the operation north

of Popel. Truckloads of fresh CAF troops could be seen heading to the front from

Seam Reap City on Aug. 18 and 19. He was not sure how many Khmer Rouge soldiers were

in the area but he had heard that there were 2 to 3,000 NADK guerrillas involved

in the planning for an attack on Siem Reap.

Col. So said that they had encouraged the Khmer Rouge to surrender and join the new

army but with little luck. "The Khmer Rouge are an gry with us. We've disappointed

their plans to take Angkor Wat."

As of Aug. 18, CAF forces in the area had suffered two fatalities and two wounded,

the result of a mine explosion north of Popel.

Col. so said that his forces had captured 6 anti-tank mines, 7,000 rounds of machine

gun ordinance, as well as destroying 700 mortar rounds, 50 artillery shells and one

tractor. He said that one Khmer Rouge soldier had defected and was under CAF custody

in Svay Leu.

To the west of Siem Reap city, CAF units had massed in Phum Don Svai, the district

capital of Angkor Chum on Aug. 19 in preparation for an attack designed to capture

the capital of Varin district. The 286 division of the former CPAF army had moved

its headquarters there, as well as the 55th Regiment of ANKI's Division 5 who had

moved their 581 soldiers down from Moung in the north to reinforce the operation.

Col. Dang Sing, the ANKI commander and Col. Hou Saron of CPAF, two officers who for

a decade have been on opposite sides of the front lines, sat calmly in a broken-down

warehouse in Don Svai on Aug. 19, and discussed with the Post their plans to move

against the NADK. Surrounded by soldiers from both factions lounging in hammocks,

the colonels predicted that they would have an easy time taking Varin.

"We expect a one-day operation," said Col. Saron. "When we have enough

ammunition we will launch the attack."

Col. Saron estimated that only 60 NADK soldiers were opposing him. Of the 400 soldiers

in the Khmer Rouge Division 912, which is based in Varin, according to Saron, 340

had moved south, crossing Rt. 6 towards the Tonle Sap. The remaining 60 were trying

"to disrupt" his operation but, he said, "We have enough resources

to take Varin."

According to Col. Saron, once the area has been cleared of Khmer Rouge it will be

turned over to the ANKI's Regiment 55, which was in control of Varin district up

until the Peace Accords were signed when the Khmer Rouge subsequently forced the

Sihanoukist troops out.

Both officers reported that all their troops had signed the oath of allegiance the

new government and had recently been paid under UNTAC's "Operation Paymaster."

Assuming the Siem Reap offensive is successful, CAF will have encircled the Phnom

Penh Kulen mountain range, cutting off any NADK soldiers remaining on top of the

mountain from their base camp in Anlong Veng headed by Gen. Ta Mok and thereby significantly

diminishing the threat to Siem Reap and the Angkor temples, which, it has been rumored,

were under the threat of attack by the Khmer Rouge since the May elections. Politically

and financially, it would be a boost for the interim government, which is hoping

that the tourist trade will help generate some short-term cash flow.

In Kompong Thom UNTAC military officials reported that the CAF offensive started

on Aug. 9 and since then government forces had captured the important Khmer Rouge

Division 616 headquarters in Sakream as well as Krayai. It was estimated that between

1,500 and 2,000 CAF troops were involved in the operation, including ANKI division

1 and 4. Unconfirmed estimates of casualties estimated 20 NADK dead and 11 for CAF.

It was also reported that up to 100 NADK soldiers had surrendered and were being

held in Stoeng.

In Banteay Meanchey Province, UNHCR reported on Aug. 24 that 799 family members of

the Khmer Rouge forces pushed out of Phum Chat were being held in the Sisophon Reception

Center. The center, which was used for the resettlement of refugees from the border

camps in Thailand, was closed down by UNHCR two months ago. The NADK family members

rounded up by CAF during the recent offensive in Phum Chat were forcibly driven to

the camp on Aug. 18.

"We can't support a forced movement of this kind," said UNHCR spokesperson

Nicki Dahrendorf in Phnom Penh. No official request was received from the government

to use the camp and the UNHCR has not received an official response from the government

as an explanation on the forced movement of civilians. Officials in Phnom Penh claim

that they have not been appraised of the situation. UNHCR is watching the situation

closely. The provincial office of the Cambodian Red Cross is providing food and water

to the detainees, who apparently are free to leave the camp as long as they do not

return to their former villages.

The strategy of separating Khmer Rouge family members from DK soldiers is, according

to UNTAC analysts in Sisophon, designed to demoralize guerrilla soldiers and encourage

them to defect to the government.

Overall, according to one officer from the Dutch Battalion based in Sisophon, the

CAF offensive appears to have been undertaken in a less than vindictive manner. "CAF

is warning the DK first, then walking in artillery barrages slowly to give the DK

time to retreat," said the Dutchman, referring to the assault on Phum Chat.

He said the rounding up of family members was done without brutality but authoritatively.

He added, "It's funny, they seen to have figured out that if they work together

they are stronger (than the Khmer Rouge)."

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