SIEM REAP - Government soldiers on the Thai border near Preah Vihear say representatives
of 250 resistance soldiers have approached the military and promised to defect once
the election is completed.
The defection would be a serious blow to the resistance forces of Nhek Bun Chhay,
who have been holed up at O'Smach on the Thai border since last July's coup.
While O'Smach is easy to defend, there have been reports that soldiers there have
been short of food and equipment, which has sapped morale.
The information on the planned defection came from RCAF soldier Chim Sitha and six
comrades who were evacuated to Siem Reap on July 27 after contracting malaria on
They said there had been a meeting between senior resistance leaders and the military
on July 25 to discuss when the defection would take place.
Sitha claimed that the resistance leaders said they did not care who won the election,
they just wanted to return.
Region 4 military commander Chea Maon said his fellow commanders had not discussed
the resistance defection with him, but he said the defectors could be integrated
into the army or could resume life as civilians.
However, he said that if they decided to join the army they could only do so as ordinary
soldiers. They could not claim the same rank they enjoyed before they joined the
Defence Minister Tea Banh said the government's position on defections had not changed
- they are still being encouraged.
"We must accept them because we want to be completely finished with the opposition
troops," he said.
However, Tea Banh warned that while the defectors would be welcomed into society,
they would not necessarily go straight into the army.
He said defectors wanting to join the army would be carefully scrutinized before
they were accepted into RCAF and would have to spend more time in education programs
than previous defectors.