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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squatting soldiers fire at police

Squatting soldiers fire at police

Angry soldiers fired warning shots at military police on Jan. 20 to avert

eviction from a prime central Phnom Penh plot where they have been squatting

with their families, witnesses said.

The 20-odd soldiers also warned the

military policemen they had mined the site, a former medical training school a

few doors from the Information Ministry. It has been earmarked for hotel

development.

"The soldiers fired into the air to threaten the military

police because they thought the military police would surround them and try to

chase them off the land," a vendor who witnessed the standoff told

reporters.

Gen. Khan Savoeun, secretary of state for the Interior

Ministry, arrived at the scene after shooting had died down. He calmed the

soldiers by promising to find a peaceful settlement.

"We don't want

forcible solutions otherwise this problem will spread," said Savoeun. "I

personally take responsibility for this and there will be no more

gunfire."

He said he had no idea who the land belonged to but he believed

there was corruption involved. "If not, the incident might not have happened,"

he said.

After tense negotiations the half-dozen military policemen

withdrew. The soldiers have since closed the site to visitors.

A trader

said the soldiers had heard the original owner of the land had died. They

believed by occupying the vacant lot they would be entitled to financial

compensation.

Soldiers inside the compound said they were from the border

towns of O'smach and Rumchang; O'smach in the north of Cambodia was over-run by

fighting last year, Rumchang in the north-west was the former FUNCINPEC

base.

The soldiers said they moved to Phnom Penh four months ago and that

the land they are occupying belonged to the government.

"When we came we

sought sanctuary with relatives, but after four to five days they were tired of

us," said one soldier who refused to give his name. "As a state employee, I only

ask for a piece of land to live on. If the government needs it back, I will walk

off," he said.

"If they want to solve the question peacefully, it's OK,"

he added. "But if they want to surround us with troops, it's a normal thing for

us...because we are not just para (military) in uniform, we are para in the

skin."

The soldiers complained they had not been paid for two months. A

soldier's salary in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is 35,000 riel ($14) per

month but pay days are often missed.-Reuters

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