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Sunday, March 29, 1998 Published at 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Khmer Rouge HQ seized in Cambodia
image: [ Guerrillas and family members from the Khmer Rouge village of Anlong Veng ]
Guerrillas and family members from the Khmer Rouge village of Anlong Veng

Cambodian government troops are reported to have seized part of the rebel Khmer Rouge's last stronghold but were coming under heavy attack from the guerrillas in the hills.

[ image:  ]
Phnom Penh troops and their allies took the tiny hamlet of Anlong Veng near the centre of the last Khmer Rouge refuge near the Thai border on Saturday.

Troops held the village, at the foot of a range of mountains, but their grip appeared shaky with the Khmer Rouge in control of most of the high ground.

The historic rebel-held temple of Preah Vihear on the Thai-Cambodian border about 40 miles (65 km) east of Anlong Veng fell under government control early on Sunday when guerrillas there defected to the government, a senior military officer said.

Deputy Chief of Staff Meas Sophea, speaking to reporters at Sre Noy, south of Anlong Veng, said the guerrilla division there had "shaken hands" with government troops.

Khmer village deserted

The village of Anlong Veng, for years the heart of the Khmer Rouge's mysterious organisation, is virtually deserted after most of the 10,000 civlilians in the area fled to safety near the Thai border.

Reporters saw chickens, pigs and other livestock running through the village of shacks, terrified by the sounds of fighting as government troops and their new allies took control.

The government brought journalists to the area by truck in the first such access to Anlong Veng from the Cambodian side since 1994.

It is about one mile (1.5 km) from the homes of the two guerrilla leaders Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok who left the area two days before Khmer Rouge defectors began a mutiny last Wednesday.

Khmer defectors blame Ta Mok

Rebel defectors met reporters and led them into the village, saying they were disillusioned with military commander Ta Mok's authoritarian style since he ousted the former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot last year.

They said Ta Mok and his lieutenants were in the mountains surrounding the village. They reportedly had only between 250 and 400 men and many more defectors were expected to cross to the government side.

"Ta Mok is the man who is responsible for the fall of our ideology," said defector Pich Cheang, who was the Khmer Rouge ambassador to China from 1975 to 1984.

"Since he arrested Pol Pot and tried Pol Pot [last June and July] he has been in charge of everything. A real dictator. He doesn't listen to anyone. He didn't give anybody a chance to do their work.

"I expect all of our comrades and friends to come to join us because no one has any faith in Ta Mok anymore," he told a reporter from a French news agency.

"Ta Mok killed the revolution that Democratic Kampuchea had built," he said.

Killing fields

Democratic Kampuchea was the name given to Cambodia during the 1970s Killing Fields years under the Khmer Rouge, in which up to two million Cambodians are believed to have died.

Anlong Veng is a remote jungle stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, made up of scores of villages in tough and inhospitable countryside.

It was not immediately clear how much of the sprawling Anlong Veng area the government controlled, but analysts stressed that control of a handful of villages did not amount to a complete victory.

Clandestine Khmer Rouge Radio, still in the hands of Ta Mok and his supporters, said between 4,000 and 5,000 people had fled Anlong Veng amid the fighting but that the guerrillas had not lost control.

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