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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rogue troops are new hazard to fisher folk

Rogue troops are new hazard to fisher folk

K OMPONG CHHNANG - Eighteen months after Khmer Rouge atrocities prompted an exodus of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese from Cambodia's central Kampong Chhang district, the people of Tonle Sap are again living in fear.

Many Vietnamese have since returned to their old moorings in this blood-scarred region, but now both Cambodians and Vietnamese alike are up against a new threat.

Members of the community now believe renegade government soldiers pose as big a danger to their livelihoods as river pirates or marauding bands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

"I don't dare go far away from the city because if we meet the [corrupt] soldiers they will confiscate our fish or demand money," said a fisherwoman called Kiv.

"The soldiers say if you don't have money to give us, you should not stay in Cambodia," added the woman.

Kiv, an ethnic Vietnamese, said she was 35 years old and that her family had lived in Cambodia for generations.

She works with an all-women crew of four aboard a five meter-long traditional wooden craft.

Kiv said the local Vietnamese fishing community, estimated to number about 10,000, was now too afraid to venture to remote areas of the river where fish stocks are more prolific.

"Today we got only 2.5 kilos of fish - earlier we used to catch at least five kilos a day," she said, unloading the morning's catch at the bustling riverside market. Her neighbor agreed.

"Last year it was better because we could go far away when Untac was here - if we meet the Khmer Rouge now they will kill us and cut our throats," said 36-year-old Lung, mother of seven and member of another full-time fishing family.

More than 100 ethnic Vietnamese were killed in the lead-up to and just after the UN-organized elections last year.

A local government fisheries officer acknowledged the Khmer Rouge problem but was more circumspect about the dangers of renegade soldiers.

"During the last few months the province has counted many difficulties with the Khmer Rouge because most of the fishing areas are close to where the Khmer Rouge are operating," said Khov Buon, Deputy Director of the Kampong Chhang Fisheries Department.

He conceded corrupt soldiers and illegal fisherman protected by armed men also made it difficult for the local fishermen to earn a living.

According to Buon, the rich fishing grounds on the Tonle Sap river lie in areas frequented by the Khmer Rouge and it is hard for the government to provide adequate security for the locals.

"Some of the armed men protecting the illegal fishermen's boats are Khmer Rouge themselves - we have heard about the corrupt soldiers but we cannot do anything about this from my office," Buon said.

"For a year now we have not been able to go away from the city - we have not even two kilos a day, that's only enough to buy rice," said another fisherman, 55-year-old Ven.

Kiv said she was more afraid of the corrupt soldiers than Khmer Rouge guerrillas, and that the lack of protection around the productive fishing areas on the river meant they were confined to estuaries close to Kampong Chhang port.

"We can't hardly make a living on fishery here but we don't dare to go far away," she said.

Lung said the fishing community was afraid to complain to local authorities out of fear it would land them in more difficulties.

"We have many problems with corrupt soldiers but we are ordinary people and we don't dare to complain to the police.

"If we complain to the police or the human rights groups, things will get worse and we will be more badly treated," she said.

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