P HNOM Penh based Khmer Rouge spies were responsible for the abduction of the three foreigners in the Kampot train ambush, according to the town's provincial military commander.
Major General Sun Bun Sak, in an interview with the Post, said: "The attack was preplanned by the KR because they had learned foreigners were on the train.
"They learned this information from their 'spies' who had followed the foreigners onto the train in Phnom Penh.
"We know this because when the train was attacked many Khmers escaped. But when the foreigners tried to escape passengers on the train [the spies] pointed guns at them to stop.
"The spies then handed the foreigners over to the KR soldiers. Normally the KR attack the trains going in the other direction because they carry more valuables.
"But this time they had two reasons to attack, foreign hostages and booty."
The major general said he received this information from Khmer survivors of the ambush who were subsequently released by the KR.
In the July 26 ambush Khmer Rouge soldiers masquerading in government military uniforms conspired with government officials to stage the raid, according Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth.
Veng said: "The train hold-ups have been the result of an illegal conspiracy between certain officials at Kompong Trach and the Khmer Rouge under which they have connived to stage the hold-ups and share the freight and other stolen property....
"They held up the train four times in 1993, and this is the fourth time they have done so this year - always at the same place, a five kilometer stretch of track in Kompong Trach district [22 km east of Kampot]."
Dun Yon, a survivor of the train attack who was held hostage by the KR for a day and then released, described the raid to Post reporters at Kampot Hospital on July 30.
He said: "At about 2 pm the train slowed to a crawl at a checkpoint [22.5 km from Kampot] staffed by guards dressed in military uniform. The militia soldiers on the train gave cigarettes to the guards at the checkpoint.
"The guards turned out to be KR soldiers. I don't know why KR soldiers dressed in government military uniform manned the checkpoint."
"The bulk of the KR attack force lay waiting behind an embankment running adjacent to the train track. They detonated [TNT] mines laid on the track in front of the train as it was proceeding very slowly past the checkpoint.
"The KR soldiers then emerged from the embankment and joining with the guards they opened fire on the train. I received two gun shot wounds to the leg. The passengers tried to hide but they were defenseless. The KR rounded up several hundred hostages.
"Then, on the orders of the KR soldiers, local villagers emerged with about 10 oxen carts to loot the train.
"The train passengers did not do anything to protect their goods being taken by the villagers because they were afraid of them as well.
"My wife's earring was taken and they took our pigs also.
"They took three cars, about 50 motos, pigs, chickens and passengers' valuables. They released most of the hostages but kept about 20 prisoners including myself. They then had dinner at the site of the ambush.
"It was several hours before they left the scene and marched us off into the jungle."
Yon said he was released after a day by the KR because of the his leg wounds.
Co-Premier Prince Ranariddh told Kampot provincial officers and ministers on Aug 2 that military and police officers and civil authorities in the area must take responsibility for the abductions.
He said: "I know very well the Kampot district officials have relations with some officers in the Khmer Rouge. Therefore I would like those people to reach the KR to convince them to free the hostages."
Prince Ranariddh said he would not launch a military or police operation against the KR raiders because it would threaten the lives of the foreign hostages - Briton Mark Slater, Australian David Wilson and Frenchman Jean Michael Braquet.
Ranariddh added that this was the same KR group which was responsible for the abduction of American aid worker Melissa Himes on March 31.
Major General Sak said the KR troop strength which attacked the train was between 30 and 65 out of an estimated total in the region of 2-400.
He said: "There were government soldiers guarding the track in the morning, but I pulled them away at 11 am. The KR took advantage of this."
Sak said he withdrew his troops because he did not expect the KR to attack the train going from Phnom Penh to Kampot. He said: "The Khmer Rouge normally attack the train going the other way [Sihanoukville-Kampot-Phnom Penh] because it has more valuable cargo on it."
Sak said the hostages were being held at Phnom Vour (Vine mountain) which has been the KR headquarters in the region since 1979.
He complained that Phnom Vour was covered by dense jungle, and said he lacked the military supplies to crack the difficult terrain around KR base.
"I need eight more tanks, two Apache helicopters, and a battery of 105 mm howitzers," he declared, "But the government only supplies us with 50 percent of our needs. We are especially low on heavy guns and other ammunition."
"I've asked the government for additional military aid but they never give it to me."
Veng said: "We [the government] are now taking the steps necessary to ensure this type of incident does not happen again. We are also in the process of reinforcing our troops in the [Kampot] area."
The Khmer Rouge originally demanded approximately $50,000 in gold for the release of each foreigner. Negotiations are taking place between the KR commanders and government authorities through intermediaries carrying messages between the groups.
Some observers said the hostages were taken by the KR because of government moves to outlaw the guerrilla group. Others suggest it is a deliberate policy of the KR to target foreigners because of Western plans to provide military aid to the Royal government.
In a press conference on Aug 3, Information Minister Ieng Mouly displayed photographs of the three foreign hostages at the rain-swept KR base. He also played a tape recording he received of the foreigners' voices.
In the photo the hostages looked pale, tense and were barefoot.
On the tape, in what were apparently prepared lines, the hostages said they were OK but conditions were difficult. Braquet said they were working, while Slater seemed to depart from the script to send the cryptic message: "Don't listen to the government, just do what you feel." It was unclear if the message was aimed at the British Embassy or his family and whether it concerned ransom demands.
Mouly said Wilson was sick and the authorities had sent medicine, including painkillers, antibiotics and anti-malaria tablets, to the KR base at Phnom Vour.
The information minister said authorities were trying to find a local doctor to treat Wilson.
The KR still wanted ransom money for the release of the hostages, Mouly said, but the government was not planning to accede to the demands.
But he added that the government was determined to do what it could to secure their release.
Mouly said that three ethnic Vietnamese abducted in the raid were still alive and being held by the KR.
King Sihanouk sent a letter to nominal KR leader Khieu Sam-phan on Aug 2 where he said the three foreigners were tourists who were not involved in political or military affairs and should be allowed to return home.
Khieu Samphan, in a reply letter to the King on Aug 4, denied Democratic Kampuchea [KR] was involved in the taking of the foreign hostages.
Ngou Phyrum, 23, who was taken hostage and detained one night in Vine Mountain, in an interview with the Post on July 30 said: "The KR are still holding 10 Cambodian men who don't have any ID to prove that they are only civilians.
"The KR suspects they are government employees or RCAF soldiers. After the raid the KR freed between 200 to 300 people mostly who had ID cards and were poor farmers."
Phyrum said: "The three foreigners were separated from the Khmer hostages. I saw the foreigners lying on a bed in a small cottage. They were crying. They were shackled at night.
She explained: "Our KR captors joked to us that they were not going to release the foreign hostages. They want the foreigners to know how they eat and sleep in the jungle."
A KR soldier said to her: "Tell them [the authorities] don't worry about the foreigners. I will send their bones to the authorities by the year 2000."
Phyrum said: "The KR warned us to stay at home from now on, not travel by train or bus. They said they planned to cut off all government communications."
She said the KR asked the local villagers near the ambush site to bring the rice, chickens, ducks and other supplies from the train to the Vine Mountain headquarters.
Phyrum claims she saw the KR shoot three Vietnamese hostages a few hours after arriving at the Phnom Vour camp.
The deputy chief of the government militia in charge of security on the ambushed train, Morn Rin said: "The KR force which emerged from the jungle numbered between 50 to 60 soldiers. The battle between my 23 soldiers and the guerrillas lasted over an hour.
"Two of my soldiers and about 11 civilians were killed during the attack. [32-year-old] Sok Chantha who manned the rapid fire machine gun on the roof of the train was shot dead after he ran out of ammunition.
"The KR force old men to sing noisy songs on the government military radio channels to block our communications with RCAF ground forces who we needed to reinforce us."