UN warns of Khmer Rouge threat

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PHNOM PENH - Khmer Rouge guerrillas trying to sabotage Cambodia's election are much stronger, better-armed and under more extreme leadership than previously, the head of the United Nations peace mission said yesterday.

Addressing staff of his UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), Yasushi Akashi said the guerrillas had increased their military strength by at least 50 per cent, and had obtained new weapons as the election approaches.

'They are operating in larger units and they are led by commanders who are more extremist than past leaders. So we have to be prepared,' he said. 'It is more than likely that they will try to hinder the election process.' This could include shooting voters, mining roads and artillery attacks.

Mr Akashi was speaking on the final day of campaigning before the six days of polling, starting on Sunday, the country's first multi-party polls after more than two decades of war and revolution.

Although it signed an internationally sponsored peace agreement in 1991, the Khmer Rouge has since opted out of the process. It has vowed to thwart the elections with violence, saying it will serve only to legitimise its bitter enemy, the Phnom Penh government, installed after the 1978 Vietnamese invasion.

Fighting between Khmer Rouge forces and the government flared again yesterday in two provinces, Kampot in the south and Siem Reap in the north-west.

Military observers on the 22,000-strong Untac force say the Khmer Rouge have been mobilising more forces, with unusually large troop movements across the guerrillas' north-western zones.

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