Government Seizes Khmer Rouge Base, Disarms Guerrillas
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Government soldiers seized a major Khmer Rouge base today and disarmed 400 guerrillas after most of their fellow fighters fled the battlefield, a U.N. spokesman said.
The capture of the base left only a few small areas under Khmer Rouge control in the regions targeted by the government’s biggest assault on the guerrilla group since U.N. peacekeepers arrived here 17 months ago.
The government had pounded the base of Phum Chat, a Khmer Rouge arms and logistics center, for two days with more than 600 rounds of artillery and mortar, spokesman Eric Falt said.
A number of guerrillas fled as government soldiers closed in this morning from three directions on the base in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, he said.
Falt declined to say if the fleeing Khmer Rouge troops took refuge in Thailand, which backed the guerrilla group through more than a decade of civil war. Phum Chat is near the Thai border.
More than 1,000 Cambodians from Khmer Rouge-controlled villages attempted to seek refuge Thursday in Thailand but were forced back across the border, Falt said.
The government has taken about 1,500 people from the villages in the area to Sisophon, about 15 miles south of the fighting, Falt said. He said there had been reports that some of them had been forced from their homes.
Col. Thang Koeun, a senior government officer in the nearby town of Thmar Puok, admitted that government soldiers had forced hundreds of people from Khmer Rouge-controlled villages and confiscated their weapons before sending them to Sisophon.
The Khmer Rouge, which controls about 20 percent of Cambodia with a guerrilla force of 10,000 men, killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians during its rule in the mid-1970s.
Many more died during the past 15 years of civil war, which ended with a 1991 peace accord. But the Khmer Rouge boycotted the May elections and has continued fighting the new government’s troops in areas it holds.
Lt. Col. Fred Hoogeland, commanding officer of the Dutch U.N. peacekeeping battalion in Banteay Meanchey province, said the government offensive was a ″well-orchestrated, coordinated effort.″
Col. Sao Savonn, a senior government officer in Thmar Puok, said the soldiers gave the Khmer Rouge an ultimatum Thursday to surrender or fight and the guerrilla group chose to fight.
A Khmer Rouge official in Phnom Penh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the guerrilla group would continue to fight back.
But he said he suspected the government would soon retreat because its armed forces included members of two factions that had been aligned with the Khmer Rouge during the civil war.
The armed forces are comprised of the three factions that won the most seats in U.N.-organized elections in May.
The Khmer Rouge official said that between 200 and 300 of the group’s former allies had defected to fight with it in Phum Chat. The report could not be independently verified.
Falt said the government has disarmed a total of more than 600 Khmer Rouge soldiers in more than a week of fighting.