T he men sat at two tables and on the floor. Their clothes were dirty, and they doodled
or gazed around distractedly as a man in a neatly pressed uniform spoke into a microphone.
This was the "re-education" of former Funcinpec soldiers by the government.
Gen Mol Roeup, a military adviser to Hun Sen, stressed that "we consider that
these people are not prisoners, [but] our brothers joined with the government."
The class of 120 soldiers had to attend a week of education training, starting July
18, before they could be released. The campus was the shattered former Funcinpec
base of Tang Krasang; the curriculum consisted of lectures on "the tricks of
the Khmer Rouge" and "the reality" of the fighting in Phnom Penh.
"We want them to know the attack was not because of a coup d'état,"
said Col Un Sipho, a member of the military education committee. "The attack
happened because the government troops try to drive the Khmer Rouge soldiers and
the illegal troops out of the city."
With his pistol strapped across his chest, Col Tep Vichet, deputy director of the
fifth bureau of the Defense Ministry, discussed the bad actions of Prince Ranariddh
and the good actions of Hun Sen. "A good leader pays money to build schools
and roads, not to buy weapons."
During a class break, 19-year-old Kol Karona, who had fled with Nhek Bun Chhay but
was captured in Kampong Chhnang, was asked about the class. "I think it is interesting,"
he replied without enthusiasm.
As class resumed, Vichet carefully instructed his students that peace is good and
war is bad: peace produced prosperity and calm, while war leds only to injury and
"Peace and war, which one do you choose?" asked Vichet, pointing at one
"I choose peace," came the answer.
"Why?" prompted Vichet.
The soldier said slowly, "Because . . . " and then looked baffled, unable
to remember what he had been told just a few minutes before.
Another class member, Chum Buntha, 21, was paying more attention. Explaining that
he had been a bodyguard of Nhek Bun Chhay, he said that he now wanted to guard Phon
Pheap (CPP), a recent KR defector. "But I am afraid he do not trust me,"
he said, so he wanted to learn what was being taught in hopes that would help secure
him the job.
Col Vichet declined to estimate the effectiveness of his education course, but said
it was meant to act as a deterrent. "This can stop the brothers from seting
up illegal checkpoints and make them respect the army discipline," he said.