PHUM KULEN - Troops are being airlifted to this remote village in western Preah
Vihear province, raising the possibility of a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces'
assault on Khmer Rouge-occupied territory.
In what could result in a
significant push against areas the Khmer Rouge have controlled for years,
thousand of RCAF soldiers are being mustered.
A senior Phnom Penh
government official confirmed plans were afoot - despite government denials of
any dry-season offensives - to mount an assault near the famous Preah Vihear
temple on the Thai border.
"We want to re-take the areas surrounding the
Preah Vihear temple," said the official, who requested anonymity. "But to take
the temple itself, we will need the cooperation of the Thais."
diplomat in Phnom Penh said the RCAF's troop strength in the province was being
raised to 10,000.
Any initial battle is likely to occur near the ancient
Preah Vihear temple. The temple itself - situated high atop a mountain range
accessible easily only from the Thai side - is of symbolic but little strategic
However, if such an assault takes place it could test Thailand's
assertion that it has stopped aiding the Khmer Rouge and is mending fences with
The Post witnessed the arrival of 120 RCAF troops flown to
Phum Kulen village - one of four Preah Vihear towns controlled by the government
and the logical forward base for an attack - on Jan 4.
A local army chief
said the airlift was part of a military build-up to take the town of a RCAF
force to 3,000 soldiers, About 70 per cent of that number were already in the
town, 40Km west of the provincial capital T'Beng Meanchey.
helicopter ferried the 120 soldiers, armed with recoilless rifles, rocket
launchers and other weapons, to Phum Kulen from the village of Phum Bos, 60Km to
the south in Kompong Thom province, where they had been stationed for many
Source say truckloads of troops have also been moving north on
Route 12 to Preah Vihear from Kompong Thom, though mines are hampering the
General Khann Sovoern, the Fourth Military Region commander
based in Siem Reap, denied any major military activity was planned around Phum
The troop transfer there was a "normal rotation" made possible by
improved security in Phum Bos, he said.
Meanwhile, the KR are boosting
numbers in Preah Vihear province, said RCAF Fourth Military Region Deputy Chief
of staff General Nhek Bun Chhay.
He said notorious one-legged rebel
General Ta Mok had moved his headquarters, taking 800 guerrillas with him, to
Preah Vihear from his former base in Anlong Veng.
government-controlled town of Choam Kasan, just 25Km south of the Preah Vihear
temple has been the site of on-again, off again fighting between the RCAF and
the KR for many months.
Observers speculate that the KR are trying to
take control of the entire province in the hope of establishing a more secure
base in the north of the country.
The government controls only four towns
in the province, with travel between them extremely difficult because of
landmines and roving KR fighters. The bulk of the province is covered with
dense, uninhabited jungle, providing ideal cover for guerrilla
But the KR no longer has it easy - there have been thousands of
rebel defections in northern Cambodia, along with a beefed-up RCAF presence in
Siem Reap to ensure ready access to the Angkor Wat temple complex by
Some are even suggesting that the KR stronghold in Anlong Veng
- a hugely symbolic battlefield which was taken, and then lost, by the RCAF last
year - may soon be a thing of the past. Gen Nhek Bun Chhay went so far as to say
the KR presence in Siem Reap province was "finished".
Government is keeping tight-lipped on whether its apparently highly-successful
amnesty to Khmer Rouge defectors, due to end on Jan 15, will be
"We will stick to the Jan 15 deadline first, and then we will
see what happens after that," was First Prime Minister Prince Norodom
Ranariddh's only comment on the matter.
Some Royal Cambodian Armed Force
senior commanders are known to have suggested the government extend the amnesty
because of its success to date.
Minister of Information Ieng Mouly would not rule out a continuance of the
amnesty when questioned about it.
"Up to now the Royal government has not
planned to extend the amnesty to the Khmer Rouge yet.... all we do now is
persuade them to defect to us before the deadline," he said:
reveal to you whether the Royal government would or would not extend the
amnesty.... If we said now that the government will extend, it will push the
Khmer Rouge to delay their defections."
Mouly said if the deadline was
not extended, KR who did not defect before Jan 15 could face being charged in
court if they were caught.
According to the law banning the KR, guerrillas could face between one years'
jail to life imprisonment if convicted.
Co Minister of Defense Tea
Chamrath, asked about a possible extension to the amnesty, said: "I know nothing
about this. It is the Royal government and the National Assembly's duty, not
mine... I am just the one who implements it."