RCAF Flies Defectors to New Base

o bai tap, Oddar Meanchey province – An RCAF helicopter landed at Anlong Veng village for the first time in four years Tues­day afternoon.

It carried three former rebel commanders to a newly established defectors’ base at the heart of the longtime Khmer Rouge base of military operations, RCAF officials said.

Chum Chhit, Chum Keo and Im Heung—three of the commanders whose defections have been pivotal as the balance of military supremacy has turned here in the past week—are now leading their men against hard-line Khmer Rouge fighters loyal to Ta Mok, former rebels and RCAF officials said Tuesday at this small village roughly 50 km south of Anlong Veng village.

The first helicopter flight that departed O Bai Tap on Tuesday for Anlong Veng village carried a Cambodia Daily reporter but was unable to land after spending more than 20 minutes in vain trying to find a clearing amid some the heaviest jungle in Cambodia.

Officials said the pilots apparently got lost but declined to ela­borate on why the first chopper was forced to turn back, indicating the government is still not in firm control of the center of the former guerrilla stronghold. Journalists who traveled there on Saturday were shot at.

Skirmishes on Tuesday continued in the zone known as “200 mountains,” which begins some 10 km north of the village of Anlong Veng, Chea Saran, director of operations for the RCAF general staff, said here.

Casualty figures are unavailable, RCAF commanders said. On Monday, government-aligned forces captured a hard-line tank abandoned near Ta Mok’s residence, about 1 km outside of Anlong Veng village, they said.

Meas Sophea, RCAF deputy chief of general staff, told a small group of reporters at Siem Reap airport after the helicopter completed its fight that most of Anlong Veng is controlled by government soldiers and rebel defectors.

Anlong Veng is a swath of land stretching south of the Thai border and believed to be home to up to 50,000 people. Government troops captured it in 1994 but lost it several weeks later.

RCAF has been sending reinforcements by truck to positions south of Anlong Veng to bolster government’s defense and prepare for more offensive maneuvers. Most of the on-going fighting is being waged by the ex-Khmer Rouge, Chea Saran said.

The two-star CPP general said Tuesday it may take up to a week to completely overrun rebel forces and capture their leaders, including Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot. On Sunday, he estimated two days, but he attributed his re-evaluation to the nearby harsh terraine.

Meas Sophea sounded a note of caution as to when the government may crack a makeshift base of operations set up by Ta Mok’s forces in the Dangrek Mountains of northern Anlong Veng, 2 km from the Thai border.

“We cannot be sure of the day we will capture them,” he said on the tarmac at Siem Reap Military Airport after returning from O Bai Tap.

The government is using the village of O Bai Tap as the primary supplies drop for the battle being waged in Anlong Veng.

RCAF has been sending reinforcements and supplies north of here to Anlong Veng by truck, soldiers here said.

Hundreds of RCAF soldiers and hard-line defectors are encamped here, including Yim Phanna, who identified himself as the commander of rebel division 980.

Yim Phanna defected last week with 576 soldiers under his command and 4,000 civilians living in the area of Anlong Veng, he said.

“Until now, about 200 of my soldiers are engaged in battle in cooperation with the government against Ta Mok’s soldiers,” Yim Phanna said.

Yim Phanna was singled out on Tuesday’s Khmer Rouge radio broadcast as being a traitor who sold his head to the Vietnamese puppets.

Clusters of tents are set up around the town center to house the scores of families who have sought the protection of RCAF in their flight from hard-line controlled areas.

RCAF commanders ordered soldiers in Andong Bey zone of southern Anlong Veng to clear enough land Tuesday to enable a larger Mi-17 transport helicopter to touch down today.

RCAF commanders said land mines and heavy forests are preventing transport helicopters from landing in the area.

The government fleet of Mi-17 helicopters are charged with carrying food and medicine into areas controlled by Khmer Rouge defectors, more than 2,000 of whom have switched to the government side since last week.

Chea Saran told AFP government forces are gradually gaining a more clear advantage in the contest against the hard-liners, estimated their strength at some 1,000 fighters.

Analysts who follow the highly-secretive Khmer Rouge told AFP the government’s assessment of the guerrillas strength to be low and say the push into the hills is fraught with potentially fatal difficulties .

Hundreds of thousands of land mines are planted on the approaches into the mountains which are notorious for their dips and ridges and are thus easily defended by a small number of men.

“A boy and his dog could hold that area,” a one western military analyst familiar with the terrain said to AFP.

“There is no way to make any kind of traditional assault there, you have to hope and pray that they just give up.

“If they done give up, there’s going to be a lot of blood and missing limbs.”






Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.