Khmer Rouge smell victory
Cambodian rebels enjoy strong backing by China
By Nate Thayer
July 21, 1990
The Associated Press
SIEM REAP PROVINCE, Cambodia — Khmer Rouge guerrillas have seized large areas deep inside Cambodia in recent months and say they will fight as long as needed if they are shut out of a political settlement.
A recent five-week, 450-mile trip through the country's north by this reporter found the Khmer Rouge have strong Chinese support and have stockpiled caches of weapons, ammunition and funds in case foreign aid is cut. The United States announced Wednesday it was withdrawing recognition of the guerrilla coalition dominated by the Communist Khmer Rouge. The coalition also includes the non-Communist forces of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Son Sann.
The U.S. move was prompted by fears of a return to power of the Khmer Rouge. The Communist group killed hundreds of thousands of people in forced agrarian reform in the 1970s until Vietnam invaded and installed a new government in early 1979.
The 30,000-man Khmer Rouge army already controls hundreds of villages in the country's south, west and north, and it operates in virtually all parts of the country.
In their jungle command posts, senior Khmer Rouge commanders said recently they were stepping up the fight to force the Vietnamese-backed government into political concessions. "The Khmer Rouge have everything they want from China. They don't need any more guns or money," said Col. Khan Savoeun, a commander of Sihanouk's army. "U.S. support for the non-Communists is very important psychologically for the non-Communist resistance. But it means nothing to the Khmer Rouge."
Ta Pok, a Khmer Rouge brigade commander in this northwestern province, said he listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia for news on peace and hoped for progress. But he said the guerrillas cannot wait around for documents to be signed. "The Vietnamese will only listen to strength, and if they don't listen they will lose everything," he said.
The guerrillas have seized large quantities of weapons in recent fighting. Dozens of hidden jungle bases are full of ammunition, and captured heavy weapons were seen in the north.
The Chinese aid is channeled through the Thai border. But as the guerrillas push deeper into the country, they rely on the hidden caches and food from recently seized villages. Thousands of soldiers and civilian supporters were seen moving freely through newly seized areas. Heavy fighting between Khmer Rouge and government troops holed up at several key forward outposts defending Siem Riep city was heard every day. The guerrillas mined roads, attacked supply convoys and overran government artillery bases. “ We are winning more easily than we expected. There is nothing that can stop us," said Khmer Rouge division commander Mit Lot, in charge of areas around the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province. "If (Cambodian Prime Minister) Hun Sen is not flexible, we will fight and for sure we will win," he said.
The guerrillas appear to have substantial popular support. Many villagers say the Khmer Rouge are not forcing them to fight, and that they pay those who help carry ammunition and supplies. The guerrillas also pay a high price for rice. However, some villagers said they were afraid to refuse guerrilla requests for help.
As part of preparations in case foreign aid is cut, the Khmer Rouge have seized large gem-mining areas in the south and collect more than $500,000 monthly in taxes from miners, said Western intelligence analysts in Bangkok. In the north, they have created a sophisticated logging operation, trucking teakwood to Thailand. The guerrillas now have a network of thousands of miles of roads snaking from areas under their control to new front lines deep in the interior.
A young rebel relaxes near Ankor Wat: Photo: Nate Thayer