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Working among the cinders

Working among the cinders

THE group of villagers hunched over the crackling radio as it picked up the

voices of Khmer Rouge fighters talking to each other.

"Have you found the

commune chief's house yet?" one of the guerrillas could be heard radioing

another. "When you do, burn it and wait until it is smoldering on the

ground."

Among those eavesdropping on the instruction with the use of a

villager's radio was the village chief himself, who later retold the story to

the Post.

He - and his house - survived the attack on Kompung Shhalang

commune, 16km southwest of Battambang town, but many were not so

lucky.

Others, including children suffering serious burns, were left to

sift through the embers of their homes trying to recover whatever they could

after the KR hit-and-run attack.

It was a similar story at Rieng Kessey

commune, 15km south of Battambang, where the local militia chief said KR

attackers singled out particular buildings to burn.

They included 40

houses, the commune's school and its medicine clinic.

The militiaman said

villagers told him the KR guerrillas were looking for the woman who ran the

clinic, accusing her of helping soldiers by letting them use it.

"They

couldn't find the woman but they set it [the clinic] on fire."

Areas

around the town of Bavel, 40km northwest of Battambang - scene of previous

attacks by the KR - were again hit hard in the latest raids.

Initial

reports claimed that 8 out of the 10 villages at Kdol Tahen commune, just south

of Bavel, had been almost completely leveled.

Hundreds of houses and

buildings - including schools and a foreign-funded sanitation project - were

said to have been destroyed in repeated raids over several days. Seven civilians

were reported killed, and 15 wounded.

Villagers told the Post the RCAF

used helicopters to drop bombs to force the KR to retreat.

The commune

was the scene of a massacre of nearly 50 people in November by the KR, who

accused the villagers of aiding the RCAF.

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