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Battle for Cambodia shifts northward

Thousands stranded; top Ranariddh official shot dead

July 8, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT)
Soldiers photo

Latest developments:

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- A top aide to ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was reported killed as fighting for control of Cambodia moved northward on Tuesday to the ancient capital of Angkor Wat.

Thousands of non-Cambodians were stranded by the conflict, which started as a political dispute but turned bloody on Saturday when fighting broke out in the capital, Phnom Penh, leaving dozens dead. Troops loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen were in control of the capital by Monday.

Hun Sen appeared on national television Tuesday to urge the international community not to meddle in Cambodia's affairs.

Evacuation photo

The Phnom Penh airport has been closed to commercial flights since the weekend but Thai air force transport planes evacuated about 300 people, mostly Thai nationals, from Phnom Penh on Tuesday. More rescue flights were planned.

U.S. warships were headed from Japan to Cambodia in case an evacuation is ordered for the 1,500 Americans in the country.

Hun Sen critic killed

Ho Sok, a leading opponent of coup leader Hun Sen was killed with a bullet to the head while in custody, coup leaders said Tuesday.

They denied responsibility for his death, however, claiming Ho Sok had been killed by "the people that were angry with him," following his arrest on Monday.

Ho Sok, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry and a senior member of Ranariddh's royalist political party, was accused of plotting against Cambodia's new leadership.

Also Tuesday, Hun Sen's military police were going door-to-door at Phnom Penh's largest hotel seeking opposition members of parliament and arresting them, said an American democracy activist living in Cambodia.

"They have nowhere to go, no recourse, no voice," said American Ron Abney, who witnessed the arrests at the Cambodian Hotel. "They're afraid for their lives."

It is not known how many were rounded up.

Ranariddh, who slipped away to France before the coup, accused Hun Sen of ordering a "manhunt" of his followers.

Fighting moves northward

One of the world's most impressive religious sites was not spared in the fighting.

The sound of small arms fire echoed off the walls of Angkor Thom, the 700-year-old walled city at the heart of the complex housing the famed Angkor Wat temple in northwestern Cambodia, witnesses said.

In separate fighting nearby, royalist forces broke through Hun Sen's lines around the city of Siem Reap, 140 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.

In northwestern Banteay Meancheay province, Ranariddh's troops reportedly were disarming Hun Sen's soldiers.

Hun Sen's forces, however, were in control of Battambang, the country's second-largest city, 155 miles northwest of the capital.

The renewed fighting appears to signal the collapse of a $3 billion U.N. investment in peace-making.

Until fighting broke out, Ranariddh and Hun Sen had shared power as co-heads of a fractured and unwieldy coalition government formed after 1993 U.N.-run elections, which ended nearly two decades of civil war in Cambodia.

Reporter John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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