A TIP-OFF to Khmer Rouge chief Ta Mok allowed him to escape an imminent rebellion
against him, seize the movement's political leadership and radio station, and escape
to a hilltop to direct counter-attacks against the plotters.
"Ta Mok was told of our plan to break away," said the revolt's military
leader, former guerrilla regional commander Yim Phanna, when asked why Mok fled the
KR capital of Anlong Veng several days before the mutiny was set to be launched.
Phanna, who had been secretly talking with Cambodian army officials aligned to the
Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for at least six weeks, blamed "soldiers from
the government side" for alerting Mok. Asked if he believed they were Funcinpec
soldiers, he said: "I cannot say this was Funcinpec or some political party,
but it was not CPP."
Mok fled Anlong Veng into the Dangrek escarpment to the north on the night of March
22, according to defectors. In the next two days, he sent loyalists to collect KR
political leaders Khieu Samphan, Chan Youran, Tep Kunnal and others.
He also collected Pol Pot, the KR doyen deposed last year, as well as the KR's long-time
Brother No 2 Nuon Chea and the movement's mobile radio transmitter, according to
defectors and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) chiefs.
The conspirators against Mok, who had been awaiting the green light to attempt to
seize Anlong Veng when government troops were in place ready to support them, were
taken by surprise. For two days, they made no move until clashes finally broke out
with Mok's forces on the evening of March 24.
Despite the forewarning of Mok, the putsch was remarkably successful in its first
days - by April 4, a total of 1,893 guerrillas from about 10 KR army divisions in
Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and other provinces had joined it, according to RCAF figures.
Observers cautioned that the figures may be exaggerated, but agreed that Anlong Veng
had taken perhaps its biggest body blow ever.
However, within a week of the uprising against him, Mok - the 71-year-old amputee
warlord with a bloody history and a reputation for cruelty - began to strike back.
His troops re-entered Anlong Veng town on April 1, RCAF officials conceded.
At Post press time, both the government and the KR claimed control of Anlong
Veng town, while continued fighting was reported.
The town itself and neighboring villages remained virtually empty, their occupants
having fled. Several thousand KR refugees gathered at O'Bai Tap, about 50km south
of Anlong Veng, and more than 30,000 Cambodians also spilled across the border into
Thailand, according to Thai authorities. They were reportedly sent back early this
week after Thai officials declared Ta Mok to be in "total control" of Anlong
Veng - a statement RCAF generals rejected.
I'VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP
KR defector Kong Sithea points from the top of Preah Vihear to the road leading to Anlong Veng.
Earlier, Mok's loyalists - mainly his bodyguard unit and the special KR Div 912 -
were said to be based on so-called Mountain 200, north of Anlong Veng, in the Dangrek
escarpment. More than 1,000 civilians rounded up by his soldiers were reported to
be on Mt 808, to the west.
Mok's troop numbers are uncertain - anything between 200-400, according to RCAF and
defectors, although some KR experts suggested he likely had more than that. RCAF
officials alleged Mok has been reinforced by a further 200-300 guerrillas sent from
the Funcinpec resistance based at O'Smach to the west.
Some observers were skeptical of the claims of the Funcinpec resistance's involvement,
suggesting possible political motives - Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh
could be banned from this year's elections if he or his party is shown to be linked
to the KR.
The timing of the CPP-led breakaway was exquisite for the CPP - drawing the limelight
away from Prince Ranariddh's long-awaited return to Cambodia - but defectors and
RCAF officials denied that it was engineered that way.
The Anlong Veng defectors appear to have been wooed by promises of semi-autonomy,
as given to the former KR areas of Pailin and Phnom Malai. "We guarantee to
all the people who have announced their breakaway from the Khmer Rouge hardliners
in Anlong Veng [the same] as the Royal Government has guaranteed to the people who
broke away in Pailin, Malai..." Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Ung Huot wrote in
a March 26 letter to the breakaway leaders.
Particularly, analysts said, the splitters were likely to be intent on profiting
from the opening up of the logging trade to Thailand if Anlong Veng joined the government.
"The question has to be asked: what specifically have they been promised in
terms of logging?" said one observer.
But first the government and the defectors have to quell Mok's forces, and are racing
to do this before the onset of the rainy season, which will make it considerably
harder to move in heavy weapons and supplies.
RCAF officials said that about 600 defectors and the same number of RCAF are fighting
Mok's loyalists, but that the defectors - as happened in Pailin and Malai - had been
given primary responsibility for securing the region. Some frontline guerrillas,
however, complained to the Post of a lack of tanks and artillery from RCAF.
"You can capture Anlong Veng but only hold it if you are followed immediately
by the logistics," noted one observer. "It's fine to say you have to many
[defecting] soldiers and families, but that's just the first stage. Now they are
expecting a lot of medicine, food, shelter, and more from their new friends. What
follows is more important."
The fighting does not appear to be fierce: several frontline commanders cited very
low casualty figures; Siem Reap military hospital, as of Apr 6, reported only three
wounded taken there since the breakaway began.
Ta Mok, meanwhile, made it clear he would fight on. "The traitors...were forced
out to the south, which is all they held on to," he said in an Apr 2 interview
in Anlong Veng with a Khmer journalist who asked for anonymity.
"Now everything is back in order," Mok reportedly told the journalist,
who also said he saw Pol Pot in Anlong Veng.
Mok - who spent most of the interview proclaiming Anlong Veng's great natural wealth,
citing the number of chickens, pigs and cows in the town - did say that he had lost
two tanks in the turmoil.
"They were totally disintegrating," said one KR analyst. "But now
Ta Mok will use his propaganda to try to get people back. It's always dangerous to
say that this is the end of the Khmer Rouge. As long as the leadership is existing,
as long as the radio station is still broadcasting, you can never say it is finished."