P HNOM VOUR - Khmer Rouge General Nuon Paet led a major offensive to try to retake his Phnom Vour (Vine Mountain) stronghold early this month, an army general said on Dec 6.
Brigadier General Prum Savoeurn, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) regiment 71, told the Post the Khmer Rouge were amassing men and arms for further attempts.
Paet is widely believed to have given the order for three Western hostages, held captive at his former Phnom Vour base for several months, to be murdered by his soldiers. The rebel general fled the mountain in late October after it came under heavy attack by RCAF forces who later captured it.
Gen Savoeurn said Paet was now using Phnom Oral, a mountain about 63km northwest of Phnom Vour on the northern border of Kampot and Kompong Speu provinces, as his base.
Paet was believed to have received military supplies from Khmer Rouge-controlled Pailin through Phnom Kravanh, about 108km from Kampot in Pursat province, where a rebel arsenal was thought to be.
Gen Savoeurn said Paet mobilized rebel troops from Takeo, Kompong Speu and Kampot provinces for the December 3 attack on Phnom Vour.
About 250 guerrillas marching toward Phnom Vour were intercepted by some 480 RCAF troops near Koh Sla village, about 28km northwest of the mountain.
The KR routed the army soldiers, pushing them 7km out of the Koh Sla area, and moved on to capture seven nearby villages.
"I was asked to send reinforcements to Koh Sla but I and my soldiers lost our way and did not reach there on time," Gen Savoeurn said.
The KR held the seven villages for two days before they were pushed back to Koh Sla by army counter-attacks.
"The situation was very serious. It is a big-scale and heavy offensive....the guerrillas are attempting to retake control of the mountain and they would have if (his troops) had been even more late to arrive at the scene."
About 700 government troops - including 100 of Paet's former guerrillas who defected before the fall of Phnom Vour in October - were rallied from Kep, Kampot and Phnom Vour to help fight the rebels.
"Bloody" battles continued for several days, he said. He was unable to provide casualty figures but said "there were corpses on both sides lying on the ground".
He did not believe the KR would be able to take the mountain in any further offensives.
"I am not concerned about that...what worries me is my soldiers being killed."
The atmosphere on Phnom Vour itself, meanwhile, was relaxed but cautious.
By Dec 6, soldiers bunkered down with rifles and mortars in positions near the bottom of the mountain said they were concerned at the prospect of a KR attack.
The government has said it is receiving intelligence on the movements of Paet and wants to arrest him for the murders of the three foreign tourists.
The governments of the three men - Britain Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Australian David Wilson - have demanded that all responsible for their abduction and murder be caught and punished.
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