Ranariddh troops seek refuge on Thai border

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 1997, 12:00am

Troops loyal to ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh are withdrawing to their former strongholds on the Thai border.

The last major military base controlled by Prince Ranariddh's supporters fell to Hun Sen's forces yesterday, military officials and diplomats said. Samrong, 25 kilometres south of the Thai border, was taken at about 10 am.

Since Prince Ranariddh's overthrow and the expulsion of his senior generals from Phnom Penh, skirmishes have broken out in northern Siem Reap province and a standoff continues in the neighbouring province of Banteay Meanchey.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) commanders have issued a 24-hour ultimatum to their royalist opponents, urging them to reconcile with forces of the new Government or face renewed attacks, northern region battle commander General Meas Sopes said.

A Ranariddh loyalist, Funcinpec General Khan Savoeun - who is leading about 600 troops north towards the former resistance base of O'Smach on the Thai border - is being pursued by an estimated 2,500 Hun Sen troops, military sources said.

The royalist troops have blown up nine bridges on a strategic north-south highway, making Hun Sen's troops abandon their armour and pursue them on foot, the sources said.

General Sophea claimed royalist troops had been re-inforced by Khmer Rouge fighters from the northern rebel base of Anlong Veng. The report could not be confirmed but military strategists said Ranariddh's outnumbered forces would have to join with Khmer Rouge rebels if they were to stand their ground.

In Banteay Meanchey province, General Ly Virak, who commands the strategic Division 12 troops along Cambodia's main highway to Thailand, a force aligned with Prince Ranariddh's troops, had also reportedly received an ultimatum.

'A no-fighting pact, forged by the reconciliation committee, is holding but the CPP have issued an ultimatum for Virak to allow the CPP to set up mixed forces units in his area along the Thai border, an area in which CPP troops are not currently welcome,' a source said.