Top RCAF commanders said Tuesday that reports of a mass defection of anti-government fighters and their families were premature, and that negotiations for the return of about 100 people were still happening.
According to Meas Sophea, a deputy chief of RCAF general staff, the government is still working on the defection of about 100 civilians and anti-government soldiers living in contested areas near the border of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces.
A government spokesman on Monday claimed that 1,000 Khmer Rouge civilians and fighters had defected to the Veal Veng commune in southern Pursat province.
One military analyst said the information leak amounted to “a jumping of the gun” on the process and could harm government efforts to arrange the defections.
RCAF officials, however, did say Tuesday that defections have successfully been negotiated
in embattled territories in the north.
Ninety-nine Khmer Rouge soldiers in the last few days left the guerrilla’s northern jungle stronghold in Anlong Veng for Angkor Chum district in Siem Reap, Meas Sophea said. And about two weeks ago, more than 100 resistance soldiers defected from Preah Vihear province, he said.
Asked why the soldiers defected, Meas Sophea said they did not have the will to fight any longer.
“Fighting is meaningless for them,” he said, adding that the soldiers also faced daily food shortages while living in the jungle.
The military analyst said the government strategy of pumping pro-government propaganda into resistance areas while pinning resistance forces down appears to be bearing fruit.
“I think they were putting a cap on them while they conducted a pretty ruthless winning-of-the-hearts-and-minds campaign. I think it’s having an effect,” said the analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“To be quite honest, I think they’ve won.”
Chea Saran, a deputy chief of general staff for the RCAF, said he hoped that 1,000 civilians who fled to Thailand when fighting broke out in the Samlot district of southern Battambang province would return soon.
Cambodian army officials and Battambang provincial officials are working with Thai officials to encourage the refugees to return from camps in the Thai province of Surin.
But Chea Saran said soldiers of Iem Pham, former head of RCAF Division 16, who is now commanding resistance forces in Samlot, are preventing people from returning.
Ko Chean, commander of the Battambang-town-based Military Region 5, said on Tuesday that fighting continues in the Samlot area.
About 20 shells fired from the resistance base about 15 km from the Thai border landed near RCAF bunkers.
No one was wounded in the attack, he said.
Shelling around Samlot begins around 5 am daily from both sides and is occasionally marked by close-range skirmishing, Ko Chean said.