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Financing the front lines

Financing the front lines

During our recent clashes with Thailand, just about everyone gave something to support Cambodian soldiers. Sun Narin and Kim Samath find out how it moved from you to the troops

Forty -six-year-old Chheng Sarann, an office official of Vocational Training at the Ministry of Education, has contributed money to support the military at Preah Vihear Temple four times now, at his home and workplace, and said the reason he gave money to the fund raising efforts was he just followed what his colleagues and neighbours did. 

“No one forced me to give, but I had to because if I did not, I would have been considered strange and not like the other people who contributed money,” he said. He added that he was not worried about his contribution by explaining that if he did not give his money to the military it would be like committing a sin. As the Buddhist saying goes: “If you do something bad, you will receive something bad, if you do something good, you will receive something good.”

He said that the money could get lost and he did not know if the collectors were honest or not. However, he added: “I think the contribution can help the soldiers in terms of food and consumption materials.”

Since the simmering dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over the Preah Vihear Temple started in 2008, Cambodia’s government started the idea of nationalist fund raising to back the military at the border through some television stations as well as private and public institutions. Since the recent clash on February 4, the fund raising has increased because the foundation now reaches every province.

However, critics are skeptical about whether all the funds raised will end up in military hands. A small number of people also seem to be bored with the fund raising.

Under the Ministry of Interior, provincial governors set up fund raising groups in the provinces and each governor takes the money to buy food which is distributed directly to the military. When buy food for the military, the television stations always go to cover the event in order to inform the public.

However, one unnamed critic said it is true that money and food were distributed to the military, but not all the money was given to the military.

“There is no transparency for that. They may keep some money for their own pockets,” he said.

In Phnom Penh, some commune chiefs went to people’s houses with a piece of paper to raise funds to support the military. They asked people to contribute both money and food items.  

Phan Raksmey, a resident in Orrusey commune, said he contributed some food items to the military because he thought this would actually reach the men in uniform.

“I do not want to contribute money since I am afraid that they just keep the money for themselves. I am a bit tired of the fund raising now,” he said.

The fund raising was also happening at some education institutions. Students were asked to contribute some money to support the military. The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) raised funds from students and Ponn Chhay, the office chief of academics of RUPP, said no members of the government told his school to raise money, but the lecturers themselves were behind the drive to raise funds.

“We are suffering from Thailand’s invasion of our territory,” he said. “I am sure that money will reach the military’s hands because we asked students to write their names and the amount of money they contributed. Students and other contributors will see their names on television screens, so they can trust it,” said Ponn Chhay.

He said all the money his school collected was sent to the Bayon Television Foundation and  RUPP even sent some voluntary youths to help pack the presents for the military.

Two television stations, CTN and Bayon, played an important role in raising funds from the people. By February 24, Bayon television has collected about US$1.17 million.

Bayon TV station has gone to Preah Vihear province to distribute items to the military directly since February 7 and bought a variety of items for them, according to Tith Thavrith, Deputy Director General of Bayon Television.

Pol Vibo, the deputy general manager of CTN, said his working group distributed funds collected for the military since February 26, adding that he gave US$2,500 to each deceased soldier’s family and spent the rest of the money buying food items and other basic materials.

He said that people who wanted to contribute had to come directly to CTN and then CTN issued a receipt for them.

“This can guarantee the accuracy of collecting funds from the people,” he said, adding that they had a mixed working group giving out the funds and items to the military and handing money to the dead soldier’s families and military leaders in meetings which were broadcast on television.

“All of this shows the transparency of the distribution of money without disclosure. We are nationalists and aim to help our country,” he said.

Born Kanha, a sophomore student of sociology at RUPP, said he gave his own money for Preah Vihear Temple because the government was lacking a budget to support the soldiers.

However she added: “I am not sure that this money can reach soldiers or not. I do not trust people collecting funds. Our society is difficult to trust for this kind of work.”

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