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Battle continues for Cambodian outpost

Royalist forces hold strong against Hun Sen's troops

August 22, 1997
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT)

O'SMACH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Warring Cambodian factions traded intermittent mortar and gunfire as well as verbal insults Friday as they battled over O'Smach, a key border town in northwest Cambodia which they both claim to control.

Rockets, mortar and gunfire could be heard from royalist troops loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who are trying to hold the stronghold of O'Smach against the advancing forces of strongman Hun Sen.

Ranariddh's outmanned, outgunned troops were putting up surprising resistance to Hun Sen's army.

On Friday, a missing Hun Sen opponent who had been feared dead, Pen Sovann, emerged from hiding in the capital, Phnom Penh, and left on a flight for Malaysia. He was escorted onto the plane by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Quinn.

Also, after a meeting in Bangkok, Cambodian officials assured Thailand's prime minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, that 35,000 refugees who have fled into Thailand to escape the fighting will not be mistreated if they return home.

Cambodian officials also said they will allow human rights monitors to follow the refugees as they make their way home.

O'Smach is nearly deserted after tens of thousands of civilians fled through Chong Chom Pass and sought refuge in Thailand earlier this week.

O'Smach among last royalist strongholds

Ranariddh, the son of King Norodom Siahnouk, and Hun Sen had governed Cambodia in an uneasy arrangement as co-prime ministers until July 6, when Hun Sen staged a coup. Since then, intermittent fighting has been taking place in various parts of Cambodia among the politically-fractured country's various factions.

Hun Sen's forces have consolidated his control over much of the country, and O'Smach is believed to be one of Ranariddh's last strongholds.

A month before Hun Sen's takeover, Pen Sovann had denounced Hun Sen and announced he would form a new political party. He went into hiding seven weeks ago, hidden in various locations with the help of United Nations and United States officials.

During lulls in the shooting and shelling near O'Smach, a war of words could be heard over field radios as soldiers, who were less than 300 yards apart, hurled insults at each other.

"Hun Sen soldiers, get down from the hill and go back to your wife in one piece," a royalist soldier yelled at his rivals over a two-way receiver radio, which was monitored on the Thai border.

"You coward, lay down your arms before your head gets cut off," one of Hun Sen's soldiers shot back over the field radio from a strategic hill they occupied about three miles from O'Smach.

Hun Sen: No negotiations with Ranariddh

In Phnom Penh, Hun Sen accused Ranariddh of using the military conflict around O'Smach as a pretext to extract concessions from his government.

"Ranariddh is now causing the military fighting at O'Smach in order to gain a place at the negotiating table to win a deal with the Phnom Penh government, but there is no way for him to do that," said Hun Sen in comments broadcast on state radio.

Official casualty figures were not available. A Thai army source at the border said about 80 soldiers from both sides were likely killed since the fighting began three weeks ago.

"Both sides are firing to the sky, like boys kidding around with their toys. I don't think they are serious," said the army source, who was closely monitoring the fighting.

Bangkok bureau chief Tom Mintier and 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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