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RCAF elite decimated by KR ambush

RCAF elite decimated by KR ambush

BATTAMBANG - The soldier lying on a hospital bed fanning his wounded leg actually

saw the Khmer Rouge guerrilla who had shot him.

His story - and that of two other survivors - describes the first "firefight"

of this dry-season offensive: at Chromoh Chrook, on January 18.

Chromoh Chrook, near Poipet, saw a squad of Cambodia's elite Indonesian and French-trained

paratroopers of the 911 Regiment torn up by the Khmer Rouge.

Fifty-seven soldiers were ambushed in an open rice paddy.

Six were killed by mines or bullets, four were captured - almost certainly later

to be killed - and five wounded. Rebel casualties are not known.

Military sources said that the Khmer Rouge were probably alerted to the "very

secret" attack - aimed at the nearby rebel stronghold of Phum Klar Ngap - by

Thai soldiers.

There is speculation too from the same sources that some Thai military close to the

Chromoh Chrook battlefront had set fire to vegetation blocking the RCAF's northern

escape. However, surviving soldiers interviewed by the Post could not confirm this.

Other Thai military however - according to reliable reports and survivors' accounts

- had allowed the RCAF force to begin their Chromoh Chrook raid from Thai soil.

Two RCAF soldiers scouted the area on January 16 with Thai soldiers, the wounded

soldier told the Post. At 4:30am on January 18, the 57-strong squad from 911 crossed

the border from Thailand into Chromoh Chrook.

The soldier said they thought there were seven rebels ahead of them, at the top of

a 600-meter square paddy ringed on three sides by bamboo and trees.

He remembers seeing three KR asleep in hammocks just ahead of him in the darkness.

The squad fanned in a circle, five meters between each man.

Immediately, they were surprised by "heavy automatic fire" from three sides.

"We didn't know about this problem, that there would be so many KR," a

second survivor said.

The ambush began pre-dawn and sniping continued for about six hours, the wounded

soldier said, as the government soldiers returned fire and retreated.

He said he saw a rebel firing from a stand of bamboo to his right less than 30 meters


A bullet hit him just above the ankle, breaking his leg.

He said he fell into what cover there was in the paddy.

He remembers yelling to his commander that he couldn't walk.

But he said he wasn't afraid; he said he felt nothing really, not even pain, and

never thought at all about the likelihood of being killed.

He thinks it was around midday when he was shot, and that was the time too that the

Khmer Rouge began burning the bamboo and paddy in front of him. The breeze blew the

smoke and heat back into the faces of the soldiers pinned there. Around 1pm, the

shooting stopped.

The soldier looked around but his troop, he said, had run for themselves.

His friend was lying nearby, shot through the chest from armpit to armpit and killed

instantly. He crawled over and took the dead man's compass.

He took stock of what he had: a rocket launcher, and four B40 rockets strapped to

his back.

The Thai border was only about 300 meters away, he reckons. But he didn't know for

sure whether there were "good" Thai soldiers there or "bad".

The provincial Surin Thais, he said, were "bad" and often in cahoots with

the Khmer Rouge.

He decided to crawl northwards, in the direction of Poipet and the dubious sanctuary

of Thailand. The distance, on the angle, was about 700 meters.

He remembers seeing Khmer Rouge gunmen standing over the bodies of dead RCAF soldiers.

The bodies "were very small," having been charred by the fire, he said.

The guerrillas emptied their automatics weapons into the heads and chests of the

dead. He couldn't say why he thought the Khmer Rouge would do this, other than they

were "very angry" - and pointed to the eagle and parachute insignia of

his 911 Regiment jacket.

Military sources said that at least some of the government dead were later found

on Thai soil.

The soldier said he also saw six hammocks being carried away by rebels, with either

their wounded or dead.

He said the Khmer Rouge must have known he was nearby and hurt.

Three times they tried to track him, and three times he fired a single rocket at

them. He said he "certainly" hit some.

Around 5pm he made it to the left-hand edge of the rice paddy and into forest of

scrub, tree and bamboo. He covered himself with branches and leaves and spent the

night there.

Around 7am he woke to see three Khmer Rouge soldiers lying in hammocks about 30 meters


He fired his last rocket at them and crawled to the border.

Thai soldiers found him, gave him intravenous fluids and "saved" him, he

said. They knew the insignia on his uniform was that of Regiment 911.

Two other survivors independently confirmed the story of the attack. One had trod

on one of the mines that had been laid around three of the paddy's boundaries, but

the wounds to his feet and legs were relatively minor.

He said he could not have stopped to help any other wounded. "Everyone was running

for themselves," he said.

He said he had three grenades on him when he was wounded, and was going to "break

them and kill myself" if the Khmer Rouge caught him.

He said the Khmer Rouge would have killed him had they captured him alive - and,

like the first soldier, pulled out his camoflauge jacket and pointed to the 911 insignia,

indicating the Khmer Rouge hated the regiment.

When asked whether he would keep a KR prisoner alive, he said: "It depends on

the soldier. Some want to kill [the KR], some want to put them in prison.

"But for myself, if I catch a Khmer Rouge soldier, I will kill him," he

said. "I have been injured five times by the Khmer Rouge already. If I catch

them I will kill them... I will cut them into small pieces."

None of the survivors thought that the rebels would have treated the captured four

any differently.

All of the survivors interviewed by the Post wanted to get quickly back to their

regiment and the fighting. They acknowledged this had been the worst battle, but

were determined that they had the numbers alone to beat the Khmer Rouge.

One said: "We were not successful this first time... [and] our commander was

angry. But the government group together will succeed. The next time we will organize

to fight to capture Chromoh Chrook, but with a different plan."

None of the survivors of the battle wanted to be named.

Phum Klar Ngap, or Dead Tiger village, is on the southern side of Laem Nong Ian,

a nine kilometer-long "wedge" of Thailand that pokes into Banteay Meanchey.

On the northern side of Laem Nong Ian lies Poipet.

Klar Ngap is considered a key vantage point from which to launch strikes into the

rebel's nominal capital of Pailin.

Despite denials from Thailand, the Khmer Rouge - and now seemingly the RCAF - have

been allowed to operate in Laem Nong Ian.


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