Senior military officials this week acknowledged that the defection of thousands of anti-government troops and their families in the embattled district of Samlot may take longer than expected.
Pol Saroeun, deputy chief for intervention for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, on Wednesday blamed delays on the tight control that rebel commanders exercise over the 300 or so troops and their families.
“The thousands of people living under the resistance leaders Ta Muth and Iem Phan are very much willing to defect but they cannot afford to” because of pressure from the top, the three-star CPP-appointed general said.
Senior military officials and Khmer Rouge defectors have said in the last two weeks that they expected a bulk defection from Samlot soon, although many do not believe that Ta Muth, the son-in-law of at-large Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok, will ever defect.
About 14,000 refugees largely from Khmer Rouge-controlled areas in and around Samlot live just over the border in a Thai military-run refugee camp, according to the UN.
Troops and their families often defect together, although the defectors say hard-line commanders separate soldiers and their families to keep the rank-and-file from deserting.
A military analyst said Wednesday that heavy rains will delay a defection because the army is unable to truck the necessary supplies—including rice and mosquito nets—to returnees in the area.
“The RCAF can’t even sustain their own forces at the moment,” the analyst said.
Ko Chean, commander of the Battambang town-based Military Region 5, confirmed that the RCAF is having difficulty supplying its Samlot troops by road, but said he has no idea when a defection will occur.
Government troops in northern Koh Kong province have also retreated in order to receive supplies by river because the rain is preventing the army from using its helicopters, Ko Chean said.