Former Khmer Rouge Fighters Assess Iraq War

Marathon television viewing has broken out in the former Khmer Rouge areas of the northwest as one-time jungle fighters pack into shops and homes to watch the dramatic coverage of the conflict in Iraq.

In Pailin, sales of coffee boomed in cafes with cable TV channels over the weekend as former rebels lapped up the 24-hour news broadcast.

Several former Khmer Rouge fighters turned war pundits on Monday and told how they were not impressed with the equipment, tactics or technological onslaught of British and US forces in Iraq.

The battle-hardened jungle fighters said the armored col­umns of tanks, artillery and personnel carriers speeding toward Baghdad left the allied forces vulnerable to hit-and-run attacks by smaller, mobile Iraqi units.

These are the tactics, they say, that the Khmer Rouge employed to good effect during their guerrilla days.

“I want to see how seriously they attack, their military strategy and their modern weapons,” said Lat Chrunh, a former rebel who spent more than 12 hours in front a television set on Sunday.

It is difficult to find an available seat at Pailin coffee shops, he said.

And the audience in Pailin town is like few others, he said, noting that the war in Iraq is being subjected to a strong Khmer Rouge military critique, particularly the heavy kit bags carried by US and British troops.

“When I was in war and taking part in ambushes against Viet­namese soldiers, I never carried a bag. I just took my gun and ammunition,” said Um Phoeung, a second former Khmer Rouge soldier.

In Battambang province, Sok Pheap also put the allied tactics through a Khmer Rouge frame of military reference, and said politically, the war against Baghdad was only for oil.

“Their style of attack is very different…we always attacked at night,” said Sok Pheap.

The massive advance of allied troops and vehicles through Iraq would eventually leave them prey to small ambushes, he said. Mobile Iraqis units can attack and escape, just as Khmer Rouge troops did.

Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh also said he was watching the war in Iraq, and the weaponry on its way to Baghdad far surpasses that unleashed during the 1991 Gulf War.

But despite their immense firepower, the allies will not find Iraqi towns and cities a walkover, Tea Banh said.

“They come to burn and destroy their houses, so where can [the Iraqis] go? They have to resist,” he said.

But Kang Sovann, an ordinary resident of Battambang town, said the weekend of televised war had thrown his memory back to Cambodia’s recent years of civil war.

Lacking the interest of a military eye, Kang Sovann said the images beamed back from Iraq mostly made him think of the ordinary Iraqi people.

“I come to the coffee shop every day to follow the war. It is interesting to see, but it is very horrible for the Iraqi people,” said Kang Sovann.

“When Cambodia had civil war, we lived in fear and escaped to different districts. I feel very scared if what’s happening [in Iraq] happened like that to us,” he said.

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