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War of attrition continues at temple

War of attrition continues at temple

B ESIEGED Khmer Rouge guerrillas occupying the historic Preah Vihear temple

seized food and other provisions in an early morning raid on sleeping Royal army

soldiers, according to the provincial governor.

Two soldiers-part of a

3,000-troop Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) buildup to strangle KR supply

routes–were killed in the attack and three wounded.

Preah Vihear

governor, General Mean Sarin, also the province's military commander, said about

60KR-virtually the entire rebel force holding the temple, he believed- mounted

the assault in the early hours of Feb 14.

In what he described as a "big mistake", he said a group of soldiers had been

asleep when they came under attack.

"They were careless and the Khmer Rouge took the opportunity to attack them

and steal a lot of supplies.

"They broke through our force's siege lines and this helped them to gain

fresh supplies."

The KR force later retreated, with unknown casualties, to

the temple.

The RCAF had earlier clamed to have cut off the KR's internal supply route to

an estimated 2000 rebels in the far north of the province and that, without

provisions from Thailand, they would soon be defeated.

Gen Sarin said only a small number of the rebels were at the temple itself,

but the RCAF did not want to assault the 10th century site for fear of damaging

it.

Gen Sarin said about 80 KR based at the temple had defected-leaving not more

than 60 behind-to the RCAF four days before the rebel attack to get

supplies.

The 3,000 RCAF soldiers stationed around the Cambodian side of the

temple-which sits atop an almost sheer cliff on the Thai border-would continue

their efforts to starve the rebels of supplies and force them to defect.

"It is not too hard to retake the temple...[but] we have no intention to fire

on the temple or use military strength to seize it from the Khmer Rouge.

"If we fight them, the temple will be destroyed by the attack."

The General said the temple's fall into government hands depended on when the

rebels' supplies ran out.

He said the Royal government had gotten assurances from the Thailand

government that the Thai military would not allow the KR guerrillas to get

provisions from across the border.

"I hope that they [Thai forces] will not help the Khmer Rouge or provide them

with food and... that they [the KR] will die if they are still stubborn." he

said.

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