The political chief of the splintering Khmer Rouge guerrilla force appealed Saturday to fighters who defected to the Cambodian government to return to the fold and said past mistakes would be forgotten.
"I, Khieu Samphan, want to appeal to all brothers and sisters, who misunderstood in any way in the past, to stop immediately all actions . . . ordered by the puppet Hun Sen," Khieu Sampan said in a Khmer Rouge radio broadcast monitored in Phnom Penh.The government of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen said late last month that Khmer Rouge defectors had mutinied against their leaders and seized the north Cambodian settlement of Anlong Veng, the rebels' last major population center.
Khmer Rouge guerrillas holding the ancient ruins of Preah Vihear on the border with Thailand to the east of Anlong Veng also switched sides and handed control of the temple to the government.
The Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of at least 1 million people during their 1975-79 "killing fields" regime, has been severely weakened by splits in recent years. The government has been trying to lure more rebel units to their ranks during the current dry season military campaign.
Khieu Samphan called for unity in order to save Cambodia from Vietnam. The ultra-nationalist Khmer Rouge see Vietnam as a threat to Cambodia's existence.
"Past actions will be forgotten. Now all cadres have to unite to save our country," Khieu Samphan said.
"Don't let modern Cambodia become the second Kampuchea Krom," he said.
Kampuchea Krom, or lower Cambodia, is the old name for what is now southern Vietnam. The area was taken over by the Vietnamese hundreds of years ago.
Khieu Samphan also said Khmer Rouge forces had recaptured Anlong Veng town and some villages in the vicinity and forced government forces and rebel defectors to retreat south.
Reporters returning from the area in recent days also said it appeared that the defectors and government forces were not in full control of Anlong Veng.
But a government army commander said Anlong Veng was still controlled by the Khmer Rouge defectors but there had been fighting in the area.