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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A quiet New Year on the front lines

A quiet New Year on the front lines

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090414_03.jpg

PREAH VIHEAR

Few furloughs as border troops to remain on alert during holiday following deadly fire fights.

Photo by:

THET SAMBATH

A Cambodian soldier stands at the Cambodian market destroyed by border fighting earlier this month. 

AS CAMBODIANS flock to their home provinces for the Khmer New Year, soldiers stationed along the contested border with Thailand say they will sacrifice the traditional family activities to maintain a watchful eye over the front lines.

 "I'm very sorry I can't attend the New Year but I think that defending Cambodian territory is more important. When we have land, our children and wives will be able to enjoy life," said Sann Sokhom, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officer stationed at Preah Vihear temple.

"If I leave [the border], who will defend the nation?"

Major Kang Saray of RCAF's Brigade 8 also said that his professional responsibilities - after deadly gunbattles left three Thai soldiers dead earlier this month - would outweigh any New Year's considerations.

"I have not been given permission to go home to spend the Khmer New Year with my family because the situation is fragile at the front line following the clash between the Thai and Cambodian armed forces," he said at his base at Preah Vihear temple, but added that some families would be allowed to return home if the situation eases up.

Brigade 8 commander Yim Phim confirmed the army is arranging for some soldiers to have time off with their relatives in the next week, but that a number had to stay on to watch over the border.

Home for the holiday

In Pheap, a soldier based at Preah Vihear temple, is one of the lucky ones to have been given leave to return to his home province.

"I am leaving the temple to spend the New Year with my wife and children in Banteay Meanchey province," he said Sunday.

"Some soldiers are allowed to go to the provinces to join in the New Year celebrations,  but most of them are staying at the base."

But those who remain at the border will be treated to in-house celebrations, care of the Defence Ministry, according to Yim Phim, who said his brigade had been given money to throw a party at its base.

"We have 22 million riels  (about US$5,370) from Minister Tea Banh to buy beef for our soldiers' party to welcome in the New Year," he said. But soldiers will be allowed only limited beer rations, he said, given the tense situation on the frontier.

Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42, said Monday that his brigade had also received more than 20 million riels from Tea Banh when he paid a visit to soldiers at Ta Moan Thom temple Sunday.

"We have bought 20 cows for our soldiers' party, [which] is being done at different places along the front line," he said. He added that 20,000 Cambodians had arrived at Ta Moan Thom temple by Sunday and would be joining in celebrations with Thai visitors at the site.

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