An entire insurgent battalion of Khmer Rumdos (the communist Khmer Liberation Forces) turned themselves over to Government troops at a quiet ceremony near Phnom Pehn on Thursday (7 March).
An entire insurgent battalion of Khmer Rumdos (the communist Khmer Liberation Forces) turned themselves over to Government troops at a quiet ceremony near Phnom Pehn on Thursday (7 March). The battalion consisted of six hundred men, and their Commander emphasised that their surrender -- or rallying as they prefer to call it -- may be only the first. Another eight battalions may defect because they are discontent with the communist leadership structure, he said.
It is not the first time that communist troops have defected to the Government side. But it was the first defection of an entire battalion. They set a number of conditions before turning themselves over, and it took days of delicate negotiations to bring them into the Government ranks.
Perhaps the most significant of their demands was that they should be allowed to stay as a unit. Sceptics in Phnom Penh have suggested that it could be a confidence trick -- a way of infiltrating Government tanks. Some people in the capital believe the Government will have to keep a close watch on an entire ex-enemy battalion, which may sometimes be operating in one of the city's key defence perimeters.
From now on the former communist troops will have artillery and air support, and possibly their own armoured squadron. Some Government officials believe this defection -- and the others that may follow -- could indicate a turning point in the country's uncertain future.
Phone Penh is still under heavy pressure from insurgent forces. On the day of the defection ceremony there were clashes to the north and south of the city following a full of three weeks. The fighting broke out after communist artillery launched fresh attacks on the city during the morning.
One of the vital supply routes into Phnom Penh, Highway Four, was cut again by insurgents 30 kilometres (18 miles) south-west of the capital. The Highway, which leads to the port of Kompong Som, had been previously open for a distance of 50 kilometres (31 miles).
The 28th Infantry Brigade moved into action against the insurgents, supported by Armoured Personnel Carriers (A.P.C.'s). They had an initial success by driving the communist back for more than one kilometre. But the communists closed an ambush around them. The Brigade managed to fight them off on two sides and were able to hold their position.
Official sources in Phnom Penh suggested that the renewed communist attacks had been precipitated by the defection.