Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pailin cleared; KR dig in west of B'bang

Pailin cleared; KR dig in west of B'bang

Pailin cleared; KR dig in west of B'bang

THE Khmer Rouge, fearing a government attack, has evacuated its entire civilian

population from Pailin.

However - in what is apparently the first serious

clash of dry-season fighting - the guerrillas' strategy of "rural terrorism"

 has pinned down the army in Battambang city and caused tens of thousands of

civilians to flee surrounding villages.

Military analysts say that the

Khmer Rouge have spent months in planning, storing caches of munitions in

forward areas and beefing up defensive positions to thwart any possible Royal

army advance on Pailin.

Oum Phen, the senior KR cadre in Phum Doung, 80

kms north of Pailin, told the Post that 4,000 Pailin civilians had arrived in

his village and that only soldiers and policemen remained in the rebels' nominal

capital.

Defence Minister Tea Banh said he had heard of such an

evacuation, though he could not comment further.

Thousands of houses and

buildings in local communes - including clinics supported by Western NGOs - have

been razed by marauding KR.

Sources say more than 40,000 civilians are

now displaced and living under blue tarpaulins near Battambang. The Post

witnessed families saving what they could from the ruins of their houses, and

women sifting charcoal and ashes from piles of

rice.

Rockets were fired into Battambang on Jan 15 after rebels got to

within five kms of the city, but they caused no damage.

Government

sources said the rebels were able to come so close to Battambang only after

claiming they wanted to defect.

The government's defection program -

highly touted and seemingly successful in all other Cambodian provinces -

appears to have failed around Battambang.

Military analysts claim that

the rebels around Battambang are "hardliners", too disciplined, too close to

their Pailin command and very aware of the need to protect the money-making

timber and gem fields to defect.

The Post has also been told that the

number of Thai milling and mining companies working the areas around Pailin has

more than doubled to 16.

In another incident, five bombs containing TNT,

laid at the roundabout next to Battambang's military hospital just one day

before King Sihanouk's arrival on Dec 22, exploded and wounded one

policeman.

The King, speaking on Jan 23 in Battambang, begged the Khmer

Rouge to lay down their arms and "rejoin society."

The King - whose

"quiet" work since arriving back in Cambodia has nevertheless been causing

reverberations within the political offices of power in Phnom Penh - invited the

KR to form a political party for the '98 elections and set up their own

newspaper.

Though it is apparent that the Khmer Rouge fear a government

offensive against Pailin, the RCAF has maintained that it intends only to secure

the countryside to provide stability for rural development, hoping to encourage

defections. However, there appears little semblance of rural stability near

Battambang.

The Post has been told by reliable sources the KR are

targetting village militia, officials and defectors in their raids.

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