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Samlot erupts, refugees flee

Samlot erupts, refugees flee

A NEW anti-government resistance front has opened up in the northwest, with thousands

of civilians reportedly fleeing as former Khmer Rouge guerrillas fought for control

of the onetime rebel base of Samlot.

At Post press time, Thailand had informed the United Nations High Commissioner for

Refugees that an estimated 20,000 refugees had fled onto Thai soil from the Samlot

area this week. The figure could not be independently confirmed, and other reports

suggested that 4,000-5,000 refugees were massed near the Thai border but had not

yet crossed over.

The fighting - marking the first time that KR defectors have turned against the government

since the July ouster of Prince Norodom Ranariddh - saw the eruption of hostilities

within the territory of the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM).

It was closely watched by Phnom Penh officials, anxious that the fighting not spread

to the key former KR stronghold of Pailin, 25km north of Samlot, Battambang province.

DNUM - compromising former KR in Samlot, Pailin and Phnom Malai who defected to the

government last year but retained their autonomy - is estimated by independent observers

to have 5,000 people under arms.

Both Funcinpec resistance chief Nhek Bun Chhay and the hardline KR of Anlong Veng

have claimed support from DNUM, but the movement's leaders maintain they remain politically

and militarily neutral.

In Phnom Penh, army chiefs insisted that the Samlot rebellion was over logging profits

- not politics - although one provincial official alleged the renegades were supported

by troops sent from Anlong Veng.

The Samlot insurrection was led by Iem Pham, who became commander of the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces (RCAF) Div 16 after defecting last year, and Ta Muth, a relative of

KR military chief Ta Mok.

Battambang's third deputy governor, Sou Gargarya (Funcinpec), said about 100 renegade

defectors loyal to Pham and Muth had been reinforced by 200 guerrillas from Anlong

Veng.

He said the rebels captured Samlot Sept 13, after spurning a government bid to negotiate

with them.

Phnom Penh military officials were unable to confirm whether the rebels held all

of Samlot.

Minister of Defense Tea Banh (CPP) said the Samlot rebellion was because of a dispute

over the distribution of logging profits, and that a government commission was being

set up to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Iem Phan and Ta Muth are believed to have left Samlot last month with a small group

of fighters who launched sporadic attacks on RCAF forces before mounting the offensive

on Samlot.

Sou Gargarya said he and other government officials met with representatives of Iem

Phan in Trat province, Thailand, Sept 12. "We asked them to stop fighting...

when I arrived home, Iem Phan still attacked Samlot and captured it the next day."

KR radio broadcasts from Anlong Veng claimed victory in Samlot Sept 21, and days

earlier referred to military attacks in the northern province of Mondulkiri. RCAF

officials said a small group of KR were launching hit and run operations in Mondulkiri.

Meanwhile, government officials confirmed fresh attacks by resistance forces from

O'Smach, on the Thai border some 200km north of Samlot, where Funcinpec soldiers

loyal to Nhek Bun Chhay and KR guerrillas from Anlong Veng have been besieged for

weeks.

Resistance troops had launched attacks to try to cut the supply lines of government

troops besieging O'Smach, RCAF General Chea Sarorn said Sept 21.

Nhek Bun Chhay, speaking by telephone Sept 22, said that "most of Hun Sen's

soldiers ran away because they cannot bear the malaria" in the mosquito-ridden

area. He said his troops had captured Kong Kriel, 15km south of O'Smach, and that

some 400 government troops had "defected" to him - claims disputed by RCAF

chiefs.

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