Bandits killed twelve people, including a 12-year-old girl, and wounded 40 in a train
attack on Aug. 3 near the small Chang Aeu crossroads in Kampot province.
In the last six weeks, the area southeast of the market has provided new volunteers
to the Khmer Rouge (KR). Whether the KR are bandits, heroes, or villans depends on
where you are at the time. The same can be said of the SOC police and CPAF. Allegiances
in this area are frequently based more on who can provide protection than political
The railway track lies between Phnum Vol to the north, a hill considered a KR stronghold,
and a cultivated coconut grove along Route 16 one kilometer east of the meeting place.
Running between the Sihanoukville port and Phnom Penh, the train carries both goods
and passengers. During the attack grenades were tossed into the train's open windows.
"It was not a pretty sight," said a U.N. observer who arrived afterwards.
The bandits, identified later by passengers as Khmer Rouge, made survivors ferry
motorcycles and stolen goods towards the northern hill.
The week before the grove's straight rows of wind-bent coconut trunks and low brush
sheltered the KR after an unsuccessful attack at that same spot. Minutes after that
attempt the A3 unit of SOC police nervously lined route 16 at 50 yard intervals.
Armed with grenade launchers, AK47s and machine guns, they wanted to prevent the
KR from retreating to villages south of the highway. Local SOC police were unable
to explain how the A3, a special police unit formed in the mid-eighties and trained
in intelligence techniques by the East Germans and Vietnamese, just happened to be
While the A3 were edgy during that first attack, the market stalls and restaurant
at the crossroads market of Chang Aeu, a kilometer away, had operated as usual. Fish
and small packets of soap powder were sold, kids threw flipflops, crowded card games
continued. U.N. sources said that before the election an "unspoken agreement"
had existed in the area between the SOC police, CPAF and the KR. The KR camped in
the hills overlooking the sea would visit their villages on the flat southern side
of Route 16 at dusk and return at dawn. Since the election, however, SOC police and
CPAF have concentrated on keeping the KR away from the villages and food supplies.
"Everything fell to peices during the election when a CPAF soldier put out a
mine, then stepped on it himself and blamed the KR," one observer said. Locals
now talk of harassment and intimidation of FUNCINPEC voters by SOC police and CPAF
The NADK north of Route 16 are characterized by U.N. observers as more organized
than the KR south of the highway. "North of the highway they are part of the
NADK structure. The DK to the south is more informal," said a U.N. official.
In recent weeks, however, intimidation and banditry have provoked at least 17 men
from the villages south of Route 16 into volunteering for the KR.
The villages south of Route 16 have had little contact with UNTAC. Several are inaccessible
to four-wheeled vehicles. Only motorcycles can navigate the narrow paths running
along the paddies' walls, and in the rainy season even motorcycles have trouble.
Civpol has not visited these remote villages, but the UNMOs at Kep toured the area
the day after the unsuccessful first train attack. "I didn't tell you I had
a submariner's licence, did I?" one grunted as we dragged the Yamaha 125 out
of a 15 meter wide "puddle."
At a wat not far off Route 16 a dozen young monks visiting from Battambang came over
to practice English, then switched to Khmer. Scaffolding had been erected inside
the wat and wall murals were being restored in bright oranges and blues. After performing
the traditional male ritual of admiring the motorcycles, the monks complained of
banditry. Some of the bandits were dressed in parts of CPAF uniforms, they said.
Did the monks have any trouble with the KR, one of the UNMOs asked.
"We like the KR. Three KR sleep here at night. They come to protect us from
the bandits," one monk told the UNMOs. "Sometimes the KR pray with us."
In a small village further on an older man sat us down in his house and offered us
coconuts. No one he knew had joined the KR he said, and we made polite talk about
how much rain has fallen. Other villages came to watch and children hung about munching
on hard candies the UNMOs produced from their uniform pockets. Several other adults
joined the discussion, especially an older woman who sat with her back against the
wall. She motioned with her hand to the speaker and interrupted him several times,
which he tried to ignore.
"The people have told me to tell you the truth," the man said finally,
changing his tone. Since the election they had been threatened by the CPAF because
they had voted for FUNCINPEC. His son had joined three weeks earlier, and he himself
had been a member of the KR at one point. The KR did not have uniforms or a weapon
to give the son. The son already had a gun.
"Do the KR come to you?"
"We go to them."
A village five or six kilometres away had no chief. "CPAF came to the village
and took his cows because they thought the village belonged to the KR. He knew my
brother and husband were in the KR so he took my cows and left," said a tall
woman, six of whose top teeth had been capped in gold. She confirmed the KR, despite
SOC denials, had been in the neighborhood for several days.
When we asked the man who seemed to be in charge if we could talk with the KR leader,
he conferred with three young men in sampots who had quitely slipped in at the crowd's
edge. The young men didn't want to set off to find the KR.
"Instead he has sent the two girls to find The Spy," our interpreter intoned
seriously, as two seven or eight year olds ran off behind the houses. Waiting for
The Spy, we talked about the village school, closed for months because teachers thought
the village too remote, and the lack of medical care. Anti-malaria medicine was the
first request. To reach Kampot hospital meant crossing over 20 informal checkpoints
set up by the unpaid SOC police or CPAF soldiers at an average cost of 400 riels
per checkpoint, money the villagers didn't have.
"We see the Red Cross truck on the road but they never come to us," complained
the gold toothed woman. The explanation that the Red Cross truck could not get through
the paddies didn't change the fact that the village had not received any of the help
they knew the U.N. and NGOs could provide.
"The Spy is coming!" the interpreter shouted suddenly and pointed toward
coconut trees leading to the paddies.
The Spy's advance guard appeared first. Through the trees a dozen children ran and
laughed on the path around The Spy, a grey-haired late middle aged woman with an
unhappy three-year-old balanced on one hip.
The Spy squated beside us and settled the child on her knee. She confirmed the local
KR leader was about 500 yards away. He and a dozen KR had been in the village for
the past several days. Today, however, was not a good meeting day.
"When the KR are here we do not have trouble with bandits," the Spy said.
As she talked she unwrapped a piece of hard candy an UNMO handed her, trying to distract
her crying child. The Spy was willing to talk but the child wasn't, ignoring the
candy and curling his arms around his mother's neck, burying his face in her shoulder.
When asked how many men had joined the KR since the election, the adults conferred
before the Spy answered: 16.
We could come back another day to meet the KR leader, The Spy said.
Ten yards behind The Spy, the sampot trio performed the ritual Examination of the
Would you like to drive an oxcart, one of the sampot wearers asked an UNMO, in what
to a cynic might seem a gambit aimed at a Yamaha test drive. As the UNMO raced the
ox, like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, towards the trees from which The Spy had come,
one couldn't help think of the KR scrambling to get away from an uncontrolled U.N.
oxcart in 5th gear.
"You must leave soon, by three," The Spy told the interpreter. The police
and soldiers along Ruote 16 might give us trouble if we left later. She also feared
that the village would receive an unfriendly CPAF visit because the villagers had
talked, and probably complained, to UNTAC.
Half an hour later we bounced across the gravel and potholes of Route 16.
The UNTAC motorcycles were barely slowed at checkpoints while local people were stopped.
One soldier sat in the shade by the road next to his AK and smilingly waved us away
with a bright red flower, looking more like a stoned hippy than an extortionist.
The next morning we visited the CPAF in Kep. A dozen soldiers were living in Prince
Sihanouk's father's deserted, bullet-pocked villa, its beaux-arts cornicing still
gracing the facade. Branches for cooking collected from the woods around the house
were stored in a gutted upstairs bathroom. Hammocks hung in each of the open, windowless
rooms and washing lines stretched across the wide veranda. According to U.N. sources
the CPAF probably hadn't been paid in three months, but this was in the week before
Operation Paymaster began. When the CPAF is paid the salary of a foot soldier is
only 38,300 riel a month, slightly more than a U.N. staffer earns in MSA every two
hours. The soldiers weren't much better off than the villagers.
To us the CPAF were courteous and friendly, communicating in a fractured melange
of French, English and Khmer, setting up another soldier to look like a fool in a
photograph, and like the villagers asking for anti-malaria medicine. To The Spy those
soldiers, or ones similar, were bandits and terrorists who gave the sons in her village
little choice but to join the Khmer Rouge. To the mother of the murdered 12 year
old on the Sihanoukville train the Spy's KR must be the cruelest, most heartless
group on the planet. Unfortunately, those SOC police and CPAF soldiers who have not
accepted the rights of the people in their areas to make their own political choices
are providing the best recruiters the KR could ever have.