Former Khmer Rouge forces who rebelled anew last year have taken a remote military base in northern Koh Kong province, government and military officials said Tuesday.
Two government soldiers were killed in the raid on Thmor Da, about 100 km north of Koh Kong town, according to provincial Governor Rong Plamkesan.
RCAF officials described the post as remote and of little strategic significance, and said they withdrew to prevent extended fighting.
About 150 rebels attacked on Friday, raining mortar fire down on RCAF Division 5 soldiers stationed there, Rong Plamkesan said. Division 5 has withdrawn from the area, he added.
Military analysts said the rebels were likely led by Iem Phan and Ta Muth, Khmer Rouge defectors in 1995 who broke away from the government a little more than a year ago.
The re-defected Khmer Rouge are said to be cooperating with Nhiek Bun Chhay, top commander of former RCAF forces loyal to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Deputy Chief of General Staff Meas Sophea said the army withdrew because it did not want fighting to disrupt the area.
“We do not want to fight back because it would cause trouble to the families of extremist soldiers who are coming back to Cambodia,” Meas Sophea said. The area is across the border from refugee camps for thousands of Cambodians who fled previous fighting in the area and further north in Battambang province’s Samlot district.
He also downplayed the base’s strategic importance.
“The Thmor Da zone is not so important for RCAF because it is a remote area without so many people living in it,” he said.
Military analysts contacted Tuesday described the gain as consistent with a long-running pattern of rebel advances during the rainy season—a pattern that has waned this year thanks to a weakened Khmer Rouge. They said the government would probably be able to retake the area in the dry season.
(Additional reporting by Kay Johnson)