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
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
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)."