Government officials confirmed Monday that Khmer Rouge fighters and civilians have defected to the government from the coastal province of Koh Kong, although exact figures of defectors were disputed.
According to a government spokesman, about 1,000 defectors escaped over the past week from areas controlled by anti-government forces in a remote area of Koh Kong on the Thai border.
“There’s about 500 families. They don’t want to fight any more,” Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith said. “We’re preparing food and shelter for them right now.”
He estimated 200 guerrilla fighters and 800 civilians to be among the defectors who traveled north to safety in Pursat province’s Veal Veng commune.
Senior RCAF officials confirmed that resistance fighters have defected in the province and that the government is sending assistance to them.
However, Samrith Hun, deputy chief of RCAF intelligence, said no precise figure was available and preliminary army estimates are not as high as those claimed by Khieu Kanharith. “I have not yet received the exact figure on that,” Samrith Hun said, “but the figure I have heard was not that many.”
Koh Kong Governor Rong Plamkesan said he hadn’t heard of any defectors, but acknowledged that Veal Veng is in another province.
The guerrillas, who have been fighting alongside resistance fighters loyal to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh since last year, have been decimated by mass defections in the past few years. They are believed to number fewer than 5,000 men.
Rebel activity broke out in Koh Kong last fall when resistance soldiers pushed south from their base in Samlot town in southern Battambang province.
RCAF officials say the base is guarded by up to 1,000 resistance fighters, including hard-line Khmer Rouge. (With reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)