RCAF generals said Tuesday that government forces had driven Ta Mok and his remaining Khmer Rouge hard-liners from their Thai border base of Ta Tum, a victory that could corner the rebels along the border and leave them few places to hide.
The whereabouts of Ta Mok, the notorious military leader who seized control of the rebel group last year, were unclear Tuesday. One RCAF general said he had probably crossed over into Thailand.
General Meas Sophea, deputy chief of general staff, said government troops assisted by Khmer Rouge defectors crossed the mountainous Sangam Pass last week to reach Ta Tum, which is 40 km west of the fallen rebel stronghold of Anlong Veng.
Government forces launched an attack from the east over the weekend and took the base at about 6:30 pm Sunday, Meas Sophea claimed. Ta Mok and his dwindling band of rebels fled ahead of the advancing RCAF troops.
The government captured ammunition, a tractor and about 20 ox carts, Meas Sophea added.
General Hout Cheang, deputy chief of operations for RCAF general staff, also asserted that government-supported soldiers entered Ta Tum at 6:30 pm Sunday.
The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Hout Cheang said the rugged terrain of the area leaves Ta Mok few places to run except over the Thai border.
The mountain-top Ta Tum camp backs up against sheer cliffs on the side leading back into Cambodia, while the side leading into Thailand is more rolling hills. Ta Tum was used as a key military base for the resistance army of then-prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1984 and 1985.
“There is no reason they would be in Cambodia now,” Hout Cheang said.
Meas Sophea, on the other hand, said it was difficult to tell where Ta Mok had fled.
One military analyst said Tuesday that if Ta Tum has indeed fallen, the rebels are running out of places to hole up.
“The only options remaining to Ta Mok would be to cross into Thailand and try to seek refuge or to push on to O’Smach and join Nhiek Bun Chhay,” the analyst said.
He added that the Thai military, long rumored to have looked the other way when the Khmer Rouge fled over the border during assaults, now appears to be offering no help to the rebels.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, former RCAF first deputy chief of staff, is leading resistance forces loyal to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. His troops are based around O’Smach, which is about 25 km west of Ta Tum over mountainous terrain.
Meas Sophea on Tuesday repeated government assertions that Nhiek Bun Chhay’s troops have been assisting Ta Mok.
Prince Ranariddh, who says his forces are observing a cease-fire pending reintegration into RCAF under a Japanese-brokered peace deal, has vehemently denied working with Ta Mok. (Additional reporting by Kay Johnson)