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
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
Rockets were fired into Battambang on Jan 15 after rebels got to
within five kms of the city, but they caused no damage.
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
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
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
The Post has been told by reliable sources the KR are
targetting village militia, officials and defectors in their raids.