siem reap – The military has devised a strategy to capture alive Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot, Ta Mok and Nuon Chea, top RCAF officials said here Sunday.
Speaking from the tarmac of Siem Reap Military Airport, RCAF Chief of Operations for General Staff Chea Saran said the military will follow the wishes of the international community to capture the men alive and have them stand trial for their alleged war crimes during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.
“Unless they surrender, we will execute a military operation that will capture them in the next two days,” the two-star CPP general said.
Top military brass, including Deputy Chief of General Staff Meas Sophea, were returning from a Sunday morning information gathering mission to an RCAF safe area for defectors in the village of O Bai Dup, 20 km south of Anlong Veng village.
Meas Sophea deferred all questions to Chea Saran.
The reputed Khmer Rouge leaders escaped Thursday from a primary base, apparently located close to Anlong Veng village in the center of the Khmer Rouge-controlled zone, Chea Saran said. The guerrilla leaders fled to higher ground to an area in the Dangrek Mountains called the “200 mountains zone,” he said.
Siem Reap-based Major Prak Sokha estimated the hard-liners loyal to Ta Mok to be about 17 km north of Anlong Veng village, just across from the Thai border, and roughly 100 km northeast of here.
Also, Thai border authorities have refused an asylum request made by Ta Mok one week ago, RCAF officials claimed Sunday. Ta Mok is believed to lead the remaining hard-liners.
Prak Sokha said the only Thai authorities involved in the decision were Ta Mok’s contacts on the border whom he contacted by radio.
Meas Sophea told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that Ta Mok and Khieu Samphan, the rebel’s longtime nominal leader, had asked for permission to cross the border with 3,000 people.
“Last night, the Thai military contacted Tea Banh asking for advice from the Cambodian government as to whether they should allow political asylum for Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan and their people or not.“
“But we said, ‘No, please send them back,‘” Meas Sophea said.
But Thailand’s foreign ministry and local border authorities both denied the claim, with the army saying the Khmer Rouge leadership is well-protected in safe houses in Cambodian territory on the border, AFP reported.
Ta Mok, Pol Pot and Nuon Chea are believed to have fled their stronghold as the defections of more than 1,000 soldiers from rebel divisions 801 and 980 set in about a week ago, the government has claimed.
RCAF hopes to attract more defections but is ready to step up its offensive operations if remaining hard-liners continue to hold-out, Chea Saran said Sunday.
About 600 RCAF troops are now cooperating with the defectors in the vicinity of Anlong Veng to persuade the remaining hard-liners to switch to the government side, Chea Saran said, adding that light skirmishes around Srah Chouk village, just east of Anlong Veng, punctuated the morning.
Casualty figures are unknown, he said.
About 200 soldiers from Khmer Rouge division 105 have remained loyal to Ta Mok in the rebel chief of staff’s flight from Anlong Veng village, he said. It is unclear where the remaining hard-liners are, he said.
Resistance leaders based in O’Smach, 50 km west of Anlong Veng, have sent about 200 troops to Srah Chouk village to assist remaining hard-liners who have chosen to fight, rather than defect to the government, according to Chea Saran.
One Saturday morning, another 1,080 troops from Khmer Rouge divisions 616, 612, 709, 920 and 801 defected to the government under the orders of commander Uth Heung, RCAF officials said.
The same day, more than 200 troops under the command of a man called “Sun” defected in eastern Preah Vihear province, they said.
All told, more than 2,000 hard-line soldiers and 100,000 civilians living the Khmer Rouge-controlled territories have defected over the past week, RCAF officials claim.
Before the defections began, Meas Sophea said only 300 hard-line soldiers remained.
Chea Saran alleged Sunday that the Thai military and resistance leaders are preventing refugees in Khau Plu camp, located just over the border in the Thai province of Surin, from returning to Cambodia.
After an initial 3,000 flooded into the area Saturday, Thai military sources who visited the area said.
“They are waiting on the Cambodian side of the border following heavy fighting around Anlong Veng,” a Thai source said.
The village of Anlong Veng was Saturday all but deserted after most of the 10,000 civilians in the area fled to safety near the Thai border.
Chickens and other livestock ran freely through the village of shacks, terrified by the sounds of fighting as government troops and their new allies took control.
While Khmer Rouge activity had centered on the Anlong Veng stronghold, their area of influence spread to other villages in the inhospitable countryside.
Analysts stressed that control of a handful of villages did not amount to a complete victory.
The government brought reporters to the area by truck in the first such access to Anlong Veng from the Cambodian side since 1994.
The journalists were kept in a village shack as they came under barrages of anti-aircraft fire from the Khmer Rouge above them.
The spot is about 1.5 km from the homes of the two guerrilla leaders Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok, who reportedly left the area Wednesday, just two days before defectors launched a mutiny.
Access to the center of the Khmer Rouge operation here— deserted by the leadership last week—was impossible amid sporadic but heavy clashes in the area.
At least one Phnom Penh soldier was injured in one attack which took place in the several hours that reporters were in the zone, while Khmer Rouge commanders sent three men down from the hills in a failed attempt to ambush the visiting party.
Clandestine Khmer Rouge radio, still in the hands of Ta Mok and his supporters, announced Sunday that between 4,000 and 5,000 people had fled Anlong Veng amid the fighting but that the guerrillas had not lost control.
A top Khmer Rouge commander told Worldwide Television News (WTN) the leadership of the guerrilla force was in control of the situation, claiming that pro-Phnom Penh forces had been pushed back about 6 km.
Khmer Rouge Supreme Commander General Im Nguon told WTN that forces loyal to Ta Mok “can probably clear the area in two to three more days and everything will still be fine.”