Desperate Khmer Rouge lashes out

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 1998, 12:00am

Desperate Khmer Rouge hardliners are plotting a new hit-and-run campaign of rural violence in a last-ditch bid to destabilise forthcoming elections in Cambodia, military and diplomatic sources have warned.

Ta Mok and other rebel leaders, realising they can no longer maintain their strongholds following recent government offensives, were desperately trying to organise resistance-style raids in the countryside, the sources said.

'Intelligence suggests he is increasingly wild and wants to cause trouble at all costs in the weeks ahead,' one diplomatic source said.

'Their long-standing rural network inside small towns and villages is all they have left and they are trying to build this back up.' Ta Mok and other senior cadres, including Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, are thought to be holed up with up to 3,000 troops in pockets along the Thai-Cambodia border.

Other fighters are resting unarmed with their families in camps just inside Thailand.

'It is not clear if all his followers are backing him on this point but he is trying to rally support for more violence,' one Thai military source said.

Thai officials deny the trio are sheltering in Thailand but many diplomats believe they freely use safe houses inside disputed territory near Surin.

Cambodian army and government officials, including co-premier Hun Sen, declared the movement all but finished after taking control of Anlong Veng and other smaller strongholds in April.

Thai and Western military analysts in Bangkok insist it must not be underestimated and point to the April killing of 22 ethnic Vietnamese - including women and children - in a fishing village deep inside Cambodia in Kompong Chhnang province.

The Khmer Rouge swiftly claimed direct responsibility. Several reports have said Ta Mok ordered the massacre himself.

'That attack surprised many of us. It showed that they [could] still reach out of the jungle and into rural Cambodia. They may be on their last legs, but we all fear their desperation,' one diplomat said.

Question marks hang over the amount of money the rebels have left after documents obtained by the Phnom Penh Post suggested once healthy coffers had been depleted in recent years after trade in logs and gems dried up.

Ta Mok has apparently been weakened in recent weeks by the 'defections' of five of the remaining members of the Khmer Rouge 'intelligentsia' - French-trained administrators, lawyers and doctors.

The five have been preaching a 'national reconciliation' line but speculation is mounting that they are merely seeking a smooth retreat should Ta Mok eventually surrender to face trial, and are ultimately serving his interests in Phnom Penh.