August 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Hundreds Flee Fighting In Cambodia Khmer Rouge Helps Royalists Hold Off Hun Sen’s Soldiers

Jiraporn Wongpaithoon Associated Press

Fighters loyal to an ousted co-premier repelled a government assault on their last major stronghold Saturday as exploding shells sent hundreds of terrified Cambodians to the Thai border.

Cambodian coup leader Hun Sen had ordered his soldiers to seize O’Smach, but as night fell, 15,000 royalist troops and other supporters of ousted First Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh held their ground.

Thai border forces were on full alert, however, anticipating that Hun Sen’s troops would soon capture the last major resistance stronghold and send thousands of Cambodians streaming into Thailand. Hun Sen ousted the prince in a bloody coup on July 5-6.

Shelling could be heard throughout the day from this border checkpoint, which links O’Smach to Thailand. As some shells burst near the village, children screamed and families pulled wooden carts loaded with belongings to the border, which the Thais had strung with barbed wire to prevent an uncontrolled exodus.

Thailand says it will allow Cambodians to enter only if their lives are endangered and they come without weapons.

Thai officers said Hun Sen had moved 1,800 troops to within 10 miles of O’Smach, while the prince’s forces were digging in three miles further north.

Ranariddh’s men can compete in numbers but lack the arms and ammunition to hold Hun Sen’s forces at bay, the Thais said. They noted, however, that the resistance fighters held the high ground.

Thai Border Patrol Police said Saturday that 600 Khmer Rouge guerrillas had joined Ranariddh’s forces.

The Khmer Rouge radio station claimed Friday it had formed a joint military command with Ranariddh’s forces. The broadcast claimed the alliance, formed Wednesday, was led by Ranariddh’s top general, Nhek Bunchhay.

The police officers said Nhek Bunchhay was at O’Smach, planning its defense with other senior commanders. They said the Khmer Rouge contingent was led by Ta Mok, a one-legged commander notorious for his brutality.

In Bangkok, Ranariddh met Friday with Thai Foreign Minister Prachuab Haiyasarn to ask that Thai authorities provide extended asylum to officials and politicians of his party if they are forced to flee.

Ranariddh will travel Sunday to the Philippines, where he is scheduled to meet President Fidel Ramos.

Ranariddh has been trying to lobby Southeast Asian countries to oppose Hun Sen’s takeover.

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