Shinichi Asabe Article Collection

The People of Southeast Asia

Cambodia The Pol Pot Group’s OffensiveJanuary 1993


The Malaysian camp of UNTAC was attacked by Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia is now its rice-harvesting time. It is called the “cool season” and thecold wind of the night and morning is comfortable. Farmers making a line to reapin the golden sea continues to the horizon. However, the Bovel district of Western Cambodia is far from such a tranquil scene more like a battlefield.

This reporter visited regiment No.6 of the Phnom Penh government’s army. Ten-centimeter holes were found on the wall of their headquarters. Major General Keo Piseth(39) started his report by pointing with his finger: “At five in the morning, the Khmer Rouge shot suddenly with B-40s from that guava tree. Their fifth rocket missed and hit the palm tree outside. Look at it, pierced and burnt.” It appears that Pol Pot opened their main dry season with a surprise attack on the regiment headquarters at dawn on December 9.

The Malaysian infantry troop of UNTAC (United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia) was also suffered from fire by seven rockets. Nothing but a water tank that was too heavy to evacuate remained at the post where the troop’s signboard was mowed down by the direct hit. Many playing cards were littered on the beds under the blue sky.

The weapons that the Khmer Rouge used were 85mm, 150mm, D30/122mm, and 130mm rockets. They fired 450-500 shells on Dec. 9, the first day; 200-300 on the 10th, 150-200 on the 14th, and 250-300 on the21st, from points 13-14 kilometers away.

Civilian damage amounted to two people killed, 10 people seriously injured, 28 houses burnt down, and 76 cows and 20 pigs killed. The government’s military damage included four people killed, 13 people seriously injured, two people captured, and four vehicles destroyed. In addition, 6,434 persons of the 1,401 families from the four villages that came under Khmer Rouge control and over 20,000 of the 3,772 families from the surrounded three districts – Khodal Tahen, Bovel and Ample Prambang evacuated to the Battambang area. Major General Piseth claimed this scale was the biggest and worst in the last 13-year civil war.

“UNTAC never gave us a hand. They ran away as soon as they packed up their own belongings,” Mr. Phon Sawan(42) who was displaced from An Tahen, one of the suffered villages, said with amazement. He is disappointed with UNTAC for leaving behind the citizens who couldn’t get out from the trenches under the heavy shelling instead of fulfilling the “confiscation of arms” and the “supervision of ceasefire” as written in the Paris agreement.

The forces of Regiment No.6 became 15 % less than before the first stage of disarmament last June by reducing 536 soldiers. “If it were not for that, we would never have allowed the Khmer Rouge to shell a populated area,” Major General Phises, vexed and expressing anger against UNTAC imbalanced disarmament.

Before sunrise on December 28, government troops finally counterattacked the Khmer Rouge and pushed them back. This operation was on a major scale, mobilizing almost 10 tanks and about 3,000 soldiers.

Forty-year-old Colonel Sttea Ros, who is in charge of orders, said,”the guerrillas had already withdrawn when we set off the operation. And we recovered the former territory at the time of ceasefire without any confrontation. But there is no knowing what the Khmer Rouge would do next,” he said in the late morning of the 28th. Pol Pot aimed at establishing its own government by seizing the five prefectures along the Thai border, according to the colonel.

Mr. Ouch Kim On, interpreter for Prime Minister Hun Sen, appealed,”This country will split if UNTAC continues not to enter the Pol Pot controlled area. They pretend not to see even though the territory of Son San and Shihanouk has been captured by Pol Pot.” After the criticism of UNTAC by Prince Shihanouk and the Pol Pot party, Prime Minister Hun Sen also disclosed his suspicion against UNTAC with his official comment,”they are too quick to flee,” finally. This means that UNTAC lost its credibility among all sides.


It is Kompong Rung is one of the floating villages of Vietnamese immigrants on Lake Tonle Sap. The lake’s water level rises seven meters and widens three times over in the rainy season than in the dry season. Fishermen live on the water by floating every building such as houses, shops, a video theater, and temples, or they live along the shore which moves many kilometers in half a year.

But they are not isolated. They make friends with the people outside the village, the customers who buy their fish. Also the Vietnamese Buddhist and the Khmer Buddhist monks mingle among each other at festivals and ceremonies.

“If I were a Vietnamese who just came to Cambodia, could you believe I’m Khmer? And also I have the ID cards of the Shihanouk regime and of Hen Samlin’s government but……,” Mrs. Pau Thy Bear(44) appeals. She is not registered as a voter although she has lived here all the time except two years, having been forced to move into the forest during the Pol Pot regime. In her family of nine,including her husband, children, sister, and brother-in-law, no one could be recognized as Cambodian citizens even though they each tried twice. “The Khmer students working under UNTAC always look fiercely at us. They could belong to some party, couldn’t they?” she said, denying their impartiality.

The population of this floating village are 2,951 among 497 families. At least 1,081 are over 18 years old and have voting rights. Although the registrations deadline to vote was postponed from the end of last year to the end of January, only about 20 percent of the villagers have been registered as voters. They can get their two guarantor as required for registration but these two are also suspected Vietnamese, due to their living together in the community.

The genocide of Vietnamese has occurred frequently and in this village as well: Eight were kidnapped and killed after the Paris agreement. And from the end of last year, Pol Pot regiment No.22, Division No.36 led by Commander Sim, approached a point six kilometers from town. They are giving publicity if anyone takes a “Vietnamese,” — gold shall be given and they begin to commit burglary against passing cars and trains.

“Although UNTAC announced that the number of registered voters reached 4.2 millions, I estimate it at much less than 4 million,” a high-ranking officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Phnom Penh government said. Excepting the case of Vietnamese, he lists the reasons as :[1] the register cards have been destroyed after being issued once the Khmer Rouge appear frequently in the area, [2] over 150,000 are still along the border because the repatriation from Pailin has not progressed and many returnees returned to the border with their families who had been in the country, [3] the busy merchants and the anarchists don’t go to register, and [4] double registration often occurs in order to vote more than twice for a supporting party.

The population of Vietnamese immigrants are about 20,000, according to the Phnom Penh government (more than a million according to the Pol Pot party). It amounts to a little over 2 percent of the whole population. The most popular jobs are No.1 for fishermen, No.2 for carpenter & furniture workers, No.3 for mechanics, No.4 for foreign traders, and No.5 for barbers, coffee shop & service traders.The propaganda of the former Three Democratic Parties lead by the Pol Pot party not only suppresses the people of Vietnamese origin but also disturbs Phnom Penh supporters by making them quarrel with each other.


A soup noodle costing about 20 cents a half year ago became 45 cents now, but the monthly pay for a government employee is still 20 to 45 dollars. Owning a side business to survive rather than at of corruption is rampant among the government offices and state companies. And in the streets, disabled soldiers and beggars stand out.

A mother with her baby were begging the passersby in front of a hotel in Phnom Penh. “We’ll go back home, when I can buy 20 kilograms of rice,” Mrs. Kham Rin (26) said in a feeble voice. The girl who looked like a baby in her arms was three years old but looked like she weighed only seven kilograms. It was their fifth day after coming out of Kompong Spoe. The People’s giving are one thousand to one and a half thousand riel (about eighty yen). She said she had already gotten the money for 15 kilograms of the rice but her husband, who lost two legs by a mine, was waiting with their other two children in the village where they could harvest nothing because of the drought last year.

Colonel Ros blamed the Pol Pot party for cutting down all the trees, making the jungle to mere a bush in the area outside the arc between Kaoh Kong Island near Thai border and Kompong Thom. On way back from Battambang, approaching Pouthisat along route No.5, this reporter came across three trucks loaded three big trees that are almost a meter in diameter each. “I heard about the ban of exporting timber on the radio, but it means the logs. No problem if we bring them to a sawmill in Battambang,” one of the drivers, Mr. Rienof An (55) said without hesitation. He meant it’s allowable to export the timber after it is manufactured in any style.

They took a week to cut down the trees from the mountain, which could be seen far-off on the west side of the national road. However, that area must have been controlled by the Khmer Rouge. “Yes, it is. They never allow over four persons per track to enter and there is never such an atmosphere that we can ask a discount. But still, they welcome us.” He answered that he always had to pay 1,300 Baht (about 6,500 yen) for every cubic meter to the Khmer Rouge, but he could still get a profit of 20 dollars a cube.

The buying price of wood in Battambang is 74 dollars a cube. “I also pay the tax of a hundred thousand riel (about 560 yen) a cube to Phnom Penh and the sawmill probably gives some to the high-ranking officers, too.” This means neither the economic blockade against the Pol Pot party, who has broken the agreement, nor the boycott of timber, which becomes their war funds, makes sense. But it means the Phnom Penh government is allowing them to ship it officially from its governed territory.

A satellite photograph warns that the woods cover only 38% of the land of Cambodia now, although it was 70% in the 1960s. As the aged farmers who remember the old times point out, land that loses its water-keeping ability easily causes floods and droughts even with a minor change of weather. And a lot of farmers who cannot harvest enough is the result.

In order to increase the production of such Cambodian agriculture, the Japanese government decided to give 500-million-yen in agricultural aid as a first step of Cambodia Recovers and Development Aid. The aid included a ton of insecticide worth a hundred million yen arriving in Cambodia in March. However, against this aid, the nineteen Non-Government Organizations and international organizations presented an admonishing paper, saying“Such an insecticide will destroy a Cambodian ecosystem that still keeps a good balance between vermin and its natural enemy,” presented with scientific data and their signatures to Ambassador Yuiko Imagawa on December 18. The ambassador, who has been familiar with Southeastern Asia, murmured, “in fact, it’s unnecessary for this country,” according to a well-informed NGO staff.

Mr. Men Sethadre (46), who had been the presiding judge and concurrently judicial chief officer of Kompong Thom, transfered to a foreign express company last year. “I couldn’t afford to send my boys to university with my salary only of forty dollars a month, but I had a distaste for the corruption,” he said, of his motive of occupational change. He also said he was promoted to such an important position from a mathematics teacher of high school simply because the talent was lacking after the genocide during the Pol Pot regime.

“Corruption is everywhere in the world but this country must be worse because of its bad fundamental situation. If it became worse than now, even the people who lost their families under the Pol Pot regime could be devoted to the extreme communism of the Pol Pot party. We should hold the election as scheduled and, anyway, speed up the economic reconstruction. Because to delay the election is also one of their tactics,”said the former judge, who has such misgivings about the confused social conditions.

On the way to the ground-breaking ceremony of the Nippon-Bashi (Japanese Bridge) restoration as the second step of C.R.D Aid, a song sounding like a Buddhist sutra cut through the car radio. “The Phnom Penh government is teasing the people for money and spending it out at the nightclubs every night. Let’s kick out such Vietnamese!” It is the propaganda of the Pol Pot party. A flag fluttering at the ceremony site was the light blue one of the Super National Council (SNC) but the window of Cambodia was still Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The reality is that all the infrastructure that could be the object of foreign aid and also the organization which manages them are under the government of Phnom Penh. Of course, the other parties blame that such foreign aid breaks the Paris agreement.


A Khmer Rouge accepts an interview wearing rubber sandals and a communist cap.

“The leaders and member who speaks English went to Pailin. No one is in,” a gatekeeper always answered, although this reporter was visiting the Phnom Penh office of the Pol Pot party, later going to see a leader of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the mountains of Kampot. Some policemen stood with their rifles every kilometer after getting out of Kampot town to the west. They say this measure has been taken since a month ago, with the passersby complaining that the Khmer Rouge often came down to charge the toll: a hundred thousand riel for a bus. Police sergeant Phi Dok(27) aware of the eyes of villagers coming together, whispered that ‘UNTAC’s register isn’t going well here. It is the same in Battambang and Kompong Thom.”

A small restaurant in Chon Har Village is the contact point with Khmer Rouge guerrillas. However, the commander whom this reporter had wanted to see was arrested and imprisoned at Kampot Municipal Prison along with the vice-commander and his bodyguard on October 27, on charges of murdering a Vietnamese grocer on September 20, according to the owner of a restaurant.

In the neighborhood, at Prek Smak village where this reporter tried to seek out public opinion, Mr. Em Chin (52) who was clad in worn out trousers and got drunk even in the daytime, started his speech after making sure there were no policemen around him. “Phnom Penh always bring disgrace on us by calling us highwaymen but they also charge taxes, don’t they? What’s wrong with charging a little on the rich traders who pass here to sell the timber to Vietnam? Although the police told us not to ask for money because we could get along, we cannot! The last harvest was zero,” he said vindictively.

Even in such a pre-Pol Pot supporting village, Mr. On Sotal(34), a woodcutter, spoke in a slightly different way. “There will be no more trees to cut next year at this rate. But I cannot support my family without cutting down the trees in the Khmer Rouge territory in the farmer’s leisure season, although I hate that it has not changed at all and there is no dialogue just like before.” Even though he has been imprisoned for four years on suspicion of being a spy from Khmer Rouge, he says he likes a Phnom Penh that provides the freedom of jobs and some means to make money, compared with before.

The head of Kampot Police gave permission to see the commander of the prison. He came out from his cell through the three gratings and shook hands in the ground partitioned from the outside with two iron doors. His giggling eyes on his copper colored face were unexpectedly gentle.

“The murderers of Vietnamese are not us. They imprisoned us without showing any evidence, putting us on trial, or informing us of our sentence. Help us please!” Commander Ros Horn(40) of Pol Pot’s regiment No.27 appealed desperately in a low but strong voice at the arbor surrounded by the guards with rifles. While handing over anti-malaria medicine to the two others, he wrote a letter to UNTAC. “We would like to ask a commander of the French Army to relieve us. We have already been in Kampot municipal prison for two months. Ros Horn, Ren Wanee, and Chon Oon. December 30, 1992. Thank you.” According to the vice commander, they don’t torture but give only two bowls of rice and five liters of water, including for one bath a day.

“It is not allowable to kill Vietnamese also in an international common sense,” he said agreeably. But their thought of,”the absolute exclusion of Vietnamese” has never been changed, and he declared, “We need the weapons to warn them to get out.”

The next morning, one of the pre-Pol Pot supporting villagers guided this reporter to the regiment of Commander Hon in Mt. Poko, 12 kilometers west of Kampot town. Mt. Poko is a rare mountain, over 1,000 meters above sea level in Cambodia, which used to be a summer resort in French colonial times and has beena strategic point during the civil war. And now, the UNTAC French Army is stationed on its peak.

Commander Shir(35) accepted an interview at his jungle base halfway up the mountain. “If the three comrades are not released, we will drive out the French Army from this mountain,” he said. He continued that it was easy to eliminate UNTAC by firing the rockets and planting the mines to hasten their withdrawal, but he still keeps it as a negotiating condition.

This commander who joined the Khmer Rouge guerrillas at 14 years of age 50 subordinate soldiers. The regiment has 175 soldiers. The duties of his regiment are [1] to give the Vietnamese exclusion education to the villagers at the foot of mountain and to train the soldiers and spies among them,[2] to give rice fields to the poor families and to advise the jobless persons to be fishermen to replace the Vietnamese fishermen, and[3] to confiscate the voter cards from the Vietnamese.

Route No.3 to Kompong Soam that can be seen from the base is the section where Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces began repairs from this year. This reporter ascertained the truth of the news which an agency reported on December 5 as “kill UNTAC personnels by any means ・・・the Khmer Rouge announced,” to the Commander. “It is controlled information by Phnom Penh in order to entrap us. There isn’t such order to kill UN soldiers although we have contact with headquarters by radio every week. The ‘foreigner’ we expel doesn’t mean the French or the Japanese in Cambodia on their duty but rather the Vietnamese who get the right to vote,” he said sneering at foreign press misled in the information war.

As the Pol Pot headquarters denied the commitment of capturing UNTAC personnel that had happened in succession mainly in Kompong Thom, the existence of a group out of the central command is observed in opposition between the chief of staff Ta Mok, who struggled his way up from being a guerrilla, and Vice Prime Minister Ien Sarih from being a civilian.

This regiment No.27 deployed near Japan’s Self-Defense Forces is said to be almost isolated, as it takes two months to their resupply point on the border between Kompong Soam and Kompong Spue along Route No.4. Commander Shir confessed that he planned the rescue operation for the three prisoners alone without Pailin’s consent.


“Don’t you think the shelling from December 9 is a farce directed by Phnom Penh?” a UN staff member,(47) who has been in Cambodia since before UN Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC) had come, chimed in with him. This reporter, who has just seen the disastrous scene of a battlefield and displaced people, is not satisfied with what he says.

He cannot believe this aggressive attack from the practical attitude of Pol Pot’s leaders, whom he talked with about the repatriation that would start from January 13. The Pol Pot party may know that they don’t have the talent to govern this country although they can make Battambang surrender by their army. He analyzes that such a big attack is incomprehensible because they could avoid being isolated by turning the former West to their enemy after China and Vietnam have already taken the open-economy policy.

This reporter has also heard in Phnom Penh last June that the Phnom Penh government is connected with the Pol Pot party just like a ruling party controls an opposition party behind in order to induce the public opinion with its reaction. Originally, both the Phnom Penh government and the Pol Pot party used to be anti-establishment under the regime of Shihanouk and Ron Nol. A high-ranking officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Phnom Penh government gives recent data that about 35% of the citizens feel hatred toward Vietnam due to their intervention into Cambodian policy and personnel affairs, although Cambodians welcomed Vietnamese when being liberated from the genocidal policy. And this UN staff guessed that the reason why Pailin, the richest area that the headquarters have already been located in was not invaded until the end by the Vietnamese Army, could be that Phnom Penh had already become aware of the Vietnamese secret desire for the treasures and didn’t cooperate with them any more.

He listed the suspicious factors about such a farce: [1] the counterattack schedule that he had heard off the record from a VIP of the government in the end of November that coincided with 28’s operation, [2] the office of the Pol Pot party has been silent about this large scale attack (denied through an international news agency on January 2), [3] although it was the disadvantageous dry season for the guerrillas because the government troops can move their heavy firearms easily, the Khmer Rouge attacked, they usually attacked along rivers in the dry season before, [4] their style of enlarging their controlled area has been to advance the place of a ceasefire meeting and then surround the area put between the former front line and there just like in an Othello, but different this time, and [5] they always put on psychological pressure by informing that “we will attack”in advance to make their scattered hits more effective, but this was a sudden attack without previous notice.

On the other hand, he doubts “the Phnom Penh and the Pol Pot could be trying to kick out Prince Shihanouk in conspiring against each other,” due to the fact that the Prince shuts himself up in Beijing “to undergo medical treatment,” though he mentions it’s a shrewd remark. In fact, the Funcinpec party led by Rhanarith, the son of Prince Shihanouk, has suffered from terrorism in which their offices were destroyed by hand grenades and several executive members were assassinated since the second half of last year. And the Prince has been criticizing such a bad public peace.

After all, there was a strange incident just before this major attack. The UN staff planned to send for a mediator who could speak to both Pol Pot and Shihanouk and to hold an arbitrating meeting in Shem Reap on December 17 and 18. But he received a negative reply, “MAY UNABLE TO COME BACK,” from Shihanouk in Beijing on December 7, by telex. And it was, surely, at nine o’clock Cambodian local time on the morning when the attack just had been set off that he received the ultimatum, the Prince didn’t come in reply to his urging. He said Prince Shihanouk could have known about the attack plan in advance.

This staff, who experienced UN peace keeping operations also in Africa, remembers that the opposing powers often plot together when the UN or a foreign country intermediates between them. And in the case of Cambodia, “if assuming the Phnom Penh and the Pol Pot conspire to make a feint, they must be trying to make the UNTAC peace program end in failure for their common aim, drawing out the aid without compensation from the United Nation in the future by taking advantage of the UN’s weakness,” said the expert UN staff, reading into the chaotic situation.

Also in the monograph written by Pol Pot himself that this reporter got a hold of during the coverage, Pol Pot prescribed that the UNTAC was a new enemy and the tactics to liberate his motherland was making the UNTAC peace plan stranded. And he continued to blame Phnom Penh for being the puppet of Vietnam as before. However, if his persistence is only meant to arm his party’s raison d’etre with logic, it is not strange that the four parties are all disappointed with the UN to sprout the common sense, so-called ‘self-determination of the Khmer people.


The activity of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is unbearably slow in Cambodia compared with other countries’ cases, although the UN changed their quarters from the Democratic Three Parties to the Phnom Penh government instantly after the Cold War between the West and East ended. They usually have already ordered a working plan from the consulting companies and only wait for the bid until this time. But in Cambodia, they plan a small development by entrusting the NGOs, who are amateurs, about infrastructure development with a feasibility study. This could mean the UN Security Council feels uneasy about the May election by seeing the deep-rooted confusion in Cambodia.

Mr. Khiev Kanharith, a SNC representative from the Phnom Penh government, accepted an interview between meetings of the budget committee at the Prime Minister’s Office. “We are thinking of a coalition cabinet because it seems difficult to win a majority for any party. But such a ‘red solution (with the Pol Pot party)’ would never be possible. Since what Pol Pot wants is not a solution to problems, there is no way to solve it in the first place. Rather than that, we have to speed up our reconstruction with a ‘pink solution (with the capitalist countries),” he said, though as a matter of course denies flatly the hypothesis of the UN staff.

The voter registration is to close at the end of January, the general election is to be held in May, and UNTAC is to breakup as soon as the new government is born by September ・・・・the United Nations will be present throughout this program in order to keep its dignity. However, it is easily foreseen that the losing parties will accuse UNTAC by roaring that “such a election is invalid,” if they succeed in fulfilling the program as scheduled, except the Pol Pot party, and leaving other parties dissatisfied with their justice. Besides, UNTAC wouldn’t have enough evidence and actual results to convince those accusers. If failing in the PKO and losing all that the UN and Cambodia have gained, the delay and supplementary budget are not a big problem. It is the last chance now to examine the issue of Cambodia’s PKO.

(Story & Photo by Shinichi ASABE)

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