At the end of last week, the battle for control of the Mekong River -- Phnom Penh's lifeline for essential supplies -- had reached a critical stage.
At the end of last week, the battle for control of the Mekong River -- Phnom Penh's lifeline for essential supplies -- had reached a critical stage. Two river convoys had already abandoned their effort to get through to the isolated Khmer Republic capital.
On Friday (April 6), as another convoy was preparing to set out up-river, Visnews cameraman Neil Davis filmed Khmer Government troops returning from an operation to clear a vital section of riverbank.
The result of such operations met with qualified success today, when the first supply ships to break the Communist blockade of Phnom Penh sailed into the city. A total of 10 from the 19 ships in the convoy succeeded in running the blockade. But during a Communist ambush, one freighter was set ablaze and the other ships were reported to have fled downstream.
SYNOPSIS: With Communist troops now blockading Phnom Penh, the Mekong river has become the lifeline for the beleaguered Khmer capital. These troops were just returning from the East Bank, where they'd been involved in a major military operation to open the river for vital relief supplies. Two rive convoys had already been forced to abandon their mission to reach Phnom Penh, and things in the capital were getting critical.
These troops were filmed on Friday. Two days later, they heard their operations had been a mixed success. Despite ambushes, ships in a third convoy had for the first time beaten the Communist blockade and reached Phnom Penh.
Here on the West Bank, there is also continuous fighting. A bombed village near Highway One forms a no-man's-land between government troops and Communist forces. American air strikes were stepped up along the river as the weekend approached in an effort to safeguard the latest supply convoy. Despite ambushes, ten of the nineteen ships got through.
For the government forces, one inescapable fact remains -- their capital is still in a virtual state of siege, with all roads cut and heavy fighting raging on a broad front to the south of the capital. In Phnom Penh itself, petrol ran out before the supply ships got through, and residents have been warned to conserve food, water and electricity.