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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Some soldiers never die, they're just paid anyway

Some soldiers never die, they're just paid anyway

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bunchay.jpg

Senator Nhek Bun Chhay, pictured here shortly after he left Phnom Penh following the July1997 coup. He is listed among those still receiving a salary despite having fled to O'Smach after the fighting.

A

CONFIDENTIAL document from the Ministry of Defence that has been obtained by the

Sam Rainsy Party shows, the party claims, that the state continues to pay the salaries

of soldiers who are dead - including top officers from Funcinpec who were killed

during the July 97 coup.

The list, dated July 22, 1999, names 153 men who served in the armed forces until

1997, the majority of whom were either left jobless after the coup, or were killed

during the fighting. The list is headed by Funcinpec senator Nhek Bun Chhay who lead

the resistance in O'Smach following the coup. But others on the list either perished

in the fighting or aftermath.

"We are not sure how many of the listed men are dead," said Phi Thach,

Chief of Cabinet for the Sam Rainsy party, "but we know those who are high-ranking

officials."

These include General Men Bunthorn, General Ly Seng Hong, Colonel Thlang Chan Sovannarith

and Colonel Heuv Sambath, all killed in the July 97 coup. Also included is General

Nuon Vanna, killed in fighting at O'Smach in 1998.

Asked where he believed the money from the salaries was going, Phi Thach said he

could not know for sure, but that "surely someone high-ranking is responsible".

The Co-Minister of Defence, Tea Banh, said he knew exactly where the money was going.

"The state continues to pay the salaries for the dead soldiers although they

have passed away," he said, "but their families get the money instead of

the men." He added that the state would continue to pay the salaries "for

ever".

Not true, according to Phi Thach.

"Close relatives of one of these dead soldiers came to me and complained that

they have not received any money from the state," he said. He said it was his

understanding that no bereaved family on the list had received any salary since the

death of its soldier family-member.

The list mentions names not only of dead soldiers, but of soldiers who fled the country

during the 1997 coup. One of these men, who talked to the Post on the understanding

that his name not be used, said that he had not received a salary since the coup,

but that his name was still being used on the payroll.

"Immediately after the coup, I was told that my salary was at RCAF General Headquarters,"

he said. "But then I was told that the salary was transferred to the Chief of

General Staff. I was told that the money was to go to 'other goals'."

He said that his colleagues who had fled with him in support of Prince Ranarridh

had all been left without salary, but that those who stayed behind in the country,

although they were still jobless, were in fact receiving salary.

"I became a kind of ghost soldier," he said.

"I am sure the government cannot scratch my name from the list because I was

nominated by Royal Decree," he said. "Those not nominated by decree were

scratched from the list - I don't know whether their salary is still used or not."

Tea Banh, however, was dismissive of the pseudo-ghost-soldier's story.

"If we ask just one soldier, he will not tell us the truth," he said.

When asked if he had queried his pseudo-ghost-soldier status with the authorities,

the soldier admitted that he had found it hard to complain.

"But I did seek to discover the truth. I came to ask some questions to General

Headquarters about my unit and my salary and so on. When I asked people there they

said they were just following orders from their superiors."

But it seems that the ghostly status is about to change for him and others like him.

Just recently, the soldier was contacted by the army and told to re-apply to his

unit, with pictures of himself, wife and children, plus a full CV and career record.

"They will check the new application against the old," he said, adding

that the army needed to know who was officially still on the list and who was a "real"

ghost.

"Colonel Ung Vuthy promised that I would be reintegrated properly on the payroll

and that I would receive my salary from June 99 onwards," he said.

But as the government continues to put into action its steps towards demobilization,

it seems possible that in fact this is just the first step on the way to permanently

decommissioning soldiers who have until now hovered in the grey areas of the army

payroll.

But the pseudo-ghost-soldier is realistic about the role he would play in a reformed

RCAF, even if he was to receive full salary again.

"I do not think they would give me my old job back," he said. "I think

I would be kept somewhere quieter where they do not have to worry about me, because

I am a Prince Ranarridh supporter."

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