POIPET, Banteay Meanchey - In the same place where Nhek Bun Chhay negotiated a cease-fire
with the Khmer Rouge factions from Malai and Pailin last year, talks are now between
opposing armed forces of what was once a coalition government. This time, a former
Khmer Rouge boss was asked to come along to help facilitate the negotiations.
Unlike Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey has so far avoided outright war between Royalist
and CPP forces, with the two sides meeting in a special committee to negotiate over
With neighboring Battambang town and province already secured by CPP, and Banteay
Meanchey for years a stronghold of resistance forces, the negotiations have been
Banteay Meanchey remains tense and under the unblinking scrutiny of CPP forces, who
have issued several ultimatums to Royalist chiefs to complete a deal.
The province is one of the few remaining places where an embryo of resistance could
be set up. Home to a host of anti-Vietnamese guerrilla bases in the 1980s, many of
the same commanders of the resistance in those days remain in positions of military
Battambang was secured by CPP forces rapidly, disarming Funcinpec forces there without
a fight July 6. They fired a B40 rocket into the home of deputy governor Serey Kosal
- a key Funcinpec hardliner - "just like to announe the defeat of Funcinpec,"
as one Western observer put it.
Within a week, Ung Samy, the CPP governor who had been recalled to Phnom Penh along
with Kosal after factional fighting in February, had returned to the province to
take charge. He celebrated by throwing a banquet.
In Banteay Meanchey, it was a different story. The CPP first deputy governor Chhay
Saret and chief of police Sok Saret fled the provincial capital of Sisophon to take
refuge in Battambang. Two hundred troops from the Royalist-commanded RCAF Division
12 occupied the town. On the same day in Poipet, the border crossing town with Thailand,
Funcinpec police disarmed CPP forces and occupied the customs office.
To try to avoid fighting, a mixed committee of CPP, Funcinpec and former Khmer People's
National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF) military commanders was set up to negotiate.
The talks have been led by the deputy commander of the 5th Military Region, Ko Chhean,
a former KPNLAF general, who has reportedly agreed on a 'no-fighting' deal with CPP.
The hardest man to convince has been another former KPNLAF chief, Lay Vireak, now
commander of the RCAF Division 12 based at Nimit, near Poipet town.
Vireak has attended only one of the meetings of the mixed committee, usually sending
deputies to represent him. On several occasions, he left his base to retreat to O'Baichoan,
his former KP base about 20 km north of Poipet on the border with Thailand. According
to sources in Nimit, CPP elements within Division 12 - totaling about 400 soldiers
- have relocated to Dong Aranh, about 25 km south of Poipet. The bulk of the Division
is apparently still loyal to Vireak.
Tension has concentrated in Poipet. Unable to persuade Funcinpec police to withdraw
from the customs office, the mixed committee July 16 gave an ultimatum that they
do so within five days.
The ultimatium unfulfilled, another committee meeting was called July 19. Sok Pheap,
deputy commander of military region five and the former KR commander of Malai ,was
asked to come along to help with the talks.
After the meeting, Ko Chhean, his deputy Duong Sokhon, Lay Vireak and Sok Pheap had
a private discussion for 20 minutes. All except Pheap refused comment afterward.
"I was asked to come by the CPP," Pheap said. "I try to help the two
parties to solve their problems. I am worried about the situation.."
He declined to say whether his troops would provide any support to one party.
While the commanders were reluctant to talk, mid-ranking soldiers expressed fears
over the presence of the mixed committee in Poipet.
"They are going to use the same strategy as in Phnom Penh, said one veteran
of Tang Krasang. The mixed committee came and at the same time they [CPP troops]
were getting ready to attack. I am sure it will be the same here."
According to sources in Sisophon, CPP have been moving troops toward Poipet in the
'Resistance' is the word whispered between the soldiers, but without great hope.
"I will not stay with Hun Sen," said one soldier. His superior officer
stayed silent, but after a while started to speak quietly: "I will work for
a resistance group, because if I go back to Phnom Penh CPP will kill me. If I lose
in a fight, I will be killed. I have no choice [but to fight]. If I die, I die for
my liberty not under anybody's pressure. Whoever is very loyal to the Prince will
be killed, like Ho Sok."
Everyone, however, is aware of the difficulties of resistance. "We do not have
enough ammunition or food," said one soldier. "Thailand allows us to cross,
but without our weapons. When we [fight], we have to find friends, but I do not expect
Thailand to help us."
Lay Vireak reportedly met Khmer Nation Party (KNP) Sam Rainsy in Aranyaprathet on
July 15, asking him about the possibilities of obtaining food, drugs and ammunition.
While several Funcinpec soldiers expressed admiration for Rainsy, most are waiting
for news of Nhek Bun Chhay.
"We are waiting for the leader. Nhek Bun Chhay will be the leader if he survives,"