PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - At least 10 Cambodian soldiers have been killed and 40 wounded in a truce-breaking Khmer Rouge offensive to grab land before U.N. peacekeepers arrive.
Observers said the offensive, which began this week and was expected to escalate further, was the heaviest in more than a year. They said the Communist Khmer Rouge were apparently attempting to capture as much territory as possible before the full deployment of 22,000 United Nations peacekeepers later this month.
Budget problems delayed the start of the peace mission, raising fears that the fragile peace would collapse before U.N. troops take control. A small advance group of U.N. officials arrived in November, and the first 250 peacekeepers arrived Wednesday.
Any fighting or movement of troops or ammunition violates the U.N.-brokered peace agreement signed in October by the four warring Cambodian factions.
U.N. officials held an emergency session late today with senior military representatives of all four factions to discuss the cease-fire violations. Another meeting was expected tomorrow.
The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians in the 1970s before being driven out by Vietnam troops. They are the strongest of the three groups that have fought the Vietnam-backed government for 13 years.
Khmer Rouge guerrillas have bolstered their front lines in northern Cambodia with at least 3,500 reinforcements, new ammunition and heavy weapons since late February, according to guerrilla and U.N. sources.
In this week's offensive, the rebels used rockets, mortars and artillery to attack more than a dozen strategic areas in the Cambodian countryside, U.N. officials said.
Most observers say the heavy fighting will die down when U.N. peacekeepers are deployed to the countryside to disarm and demobilize the guerrillas.
Central government troops have fought back, but observers said the army is in disarray. Many soldiers have deserted, and others have not been paid in months.