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Royalist troops hold on to Cambodian outpost

Khmer Rouge aids Ranariddh in battle

August 21, 1997
Web posted at: 9:28 p.m. EDT (0128 GMT)

From Correspondent Tom Mintier

O'SMACH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, forces loyal to ousted Cambodian Second Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh continue to hang on to the border town of O'Smach.

Troops loyal to Ranariddh's political rival, First Prime Minister Hun Sen, continued to pound the last remaining opposition positions, but without much success. Khmer Rouge guerrillas, based to the west of the town in Anlong Veng, have been fighting alongside Ranariddh's royalist forces to successfully hold off Hun Sen's army.

While Hun Sen claimed that his larger, better-armed force had taken O'Smach, reporters at the border clearly saw that it was still in Ranariddh's hands Thursday.

Hun Sen and Ranariddh shared power in a shaky coalition for four years until Ranariddh was ousted by Hun Sen in a July coup, triggering warfare between the politically fractured country's various factions.

Hun Sen justified the overthrow of the prince, the son of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, on the grounds that he was making a secret deal with the Khmer Rouge, a hard-line Marxist group that ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979.

O'Smach is believed to be Ranariddh's last major stronghold in Cambodia, though the prince insists that his support is more widespread.

In the battle for O'Smach, the fighting was a study in contrasts. While a few soldiers cleared some of the many land mines along roads leading into the town, others passed the time playing cards.

O'Smach once was home to more than 25,000 people, who were mostly traders along the border. These days, though, the soldiers staying behind are trading in deadlier goods -- mortar and rocket rounds.

Hun Sen has promised to "unify" his country by the end of the year. That would surely mean a major offensive to wipe out both the Khmer Rouge and forces supporting Ranariddh.

While the soldiers are fighting, non-combatants wait on the sidelines in Thailand, where more than 33,000 Cambodians have taken refuge in the past week.

Their fate could be decided at a meeting in Bangkok on Friday, when Cambodia's defense minister is scheduled to meet with Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

Just how long these refugees will be allowed to stay in Thailand will most likely be discussed. Thai officials have said they will not send the refugees back until the situation in Cambodia is safe -- but no one is quite sure who will make that determination.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Related sites:

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  • ASEAN - the official website of the Association of South East Asian Nations
  • Cambodian Information Center - includies Cambodian news and photos, academic papers on Cambodia, and homepage links
  • Embassy of Cambodia - site of the Chancery of the Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the United States located in Washington, D.C.
  • Beauty and Darkness: Cambodia in Modern History - documents, essays, oral histories, and photos relating to the recent history of Cambodia, with an emphasis on the Khmer Rouge period

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