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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hun Sen Attacks Royalist Holdouts

CHONG CHOM PASS, Thailand -- Thousands of refugees packed their belongings onto carts and readied to flee from Cambodia across the barbed-wired border into Thailand on Friday from the last major stronghold of armed resistance to Cambodian strongman Hun Sen.


Hun Sen, who ousted his co-prime minister in a July coup, on Thursday ordered his forces to capture the border outpost of O'Smach within a day.


Some 15,000 civilians and soldiers loyal to ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh have been camped out at O'Smach as Hun Sen's forces have advanced north. In the past week, many have been building bunkers in anticipation of attack.


Occasional shelling and gunfire could be heard Friday from the border checkpoint which links O'Smach to Thailand.


Cambodian civilians, who have been living for weeks along the town's only road in makeshift shelters with plastic-sheeting roofs, loaded wooden carts for a quick getaway.


Some had already moved closer to the border, strung with barbed wire by the Thais to prevent an uncontrolled exodus.


Three relief workers from the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders crossed Friday into O'Smach from Thailand to deliver medicine. There is only one Cambodian doctor staying there with two medical assistants. Malaria and diarrhea are rife.


Thai authorities said they expected that the town would soon be captured by Hun Sen's forces.


Thai officers said Hun Sen had moved 1,800 troops to a rear area about 18 kilometers from O'Smach, while the prince's loyalists were digging in about five kilometers further north.


Ranariddh's men hold high ground and can compete in terms of numbers, the Thais said, but lack the arms and ammunition to hold Hun Sen's forces at bay.


A group of about 50 Thai soldiers, not there a week ago, were bivouacked less than a kilometer from the border to keep security.


In Bangkok, Ranariddh met Friday with Thai Foreign Minister Prachuab Chaiyasarn to ask that Thai authorities provide extended asylum to officials and politicians of his FUNCINPEC party if they should be forced to flee.


Ranariddh had been denied permission to travel through Thailand to the camp, even though he said he would merely provide humanitarian support.


"We don't want anybody or any party to use Thailand as a base to conduct armed resistance or interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia,'' Prachuab told journalists Thursday night.


Ranariddh will travel to the Philippines on Sunday, where he is to meet President Fidel Ramos. Ranariddh has been trying to lobby third countries, especially in Southeast Asia, to oppose Hun Sen's takeover.