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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The war's over - let's go shopping

The war's over - let's go shopping

R ESIDENTS in Phnom Penh's western suburbs awoke to a new kind of anarchy on July

7, the morning after government troops had finalized their operation against the

forces of disorder.

Troops loyal to Hun Sen, distinguished by red ribbons pinned to their breast, roamed

the area, looting from markets, shops and the houses of people living there.

"The leaders should realize this is the result of war. You can start it but

you can't stop it. Now, they're making a war against the people, not against enemy

soldiers," said one resident of Boeung Salang district, just west of Dangkor


Standing next to his weeping mother, the man pointed to the bent bars of a window

where soldiers had attempted to force their way into his family's house. Two spent

bullet casings lay on the ground, after the looters had eventually shot through the

front entry lock.

Inside, the house was in disarray. Clothing spilled from cupboards, papers and books

were strewn across the floor, furniture lay upended. A television, a video player,

a computer and a radio cassette player had been claimed as the victors' booty.

"I tried for years to save for these things, now I don't even have a stove to

cook on," said the resident.

"Have some water, it's all I have left," he added forlornly.

Most of the district's residents had left their homes under instructions from soldiers

as fighting intensified on the afternoon of July 5. Returning two days later, they

were stopped at gunpoint from entering their homes while soldiers completed their

ransacking of the unoccupied houses.

"When they've got everything they let you back in. They steal everything that's

worth something," said one local.

At the time of the Post's visit, sporadic shooting could still be heard in the area,

as soldiers kept residents at bay. One soldier explained that the gunfire was the

result of the military's effort "to protect a motorbike store from the people".

Standing next to the soldier, his brother, a government official, laughed and contradicted

his sibling: " I don't think so. I think the soldiers are taking them for themselves.

Everything belongs to them."

Asked why the government troops were looting the area, his brother, the soldier,

said "That's their victory - to take things".

"We do whatever the commander orders, we have to listen to our commander,"

he said, claiming that soldiers were looting on the orders of their superiors.

Cyclos passed by piled high with household goods, a stony-faced soldier atop each

one. Other soldiers sat astride liberated motorbikes, towed by their comrades. One

soldier unloaded a gleaming blue moto from a cyclo and deposited it at a friend's

house. He hurried away. Going back for more, said neighbors.

The trail of pillage continued around St 271, which skirts the western edge of Phnom

Penh. Along this bumpy dirt road a stream of civilians and soldiers mixed together

hauling lengths of pilfered plastic pipe by any means possible - moto, remok, handcart,

or simply tied to their waists.

A kilometer from where St 271 meets the intersection of Pochentong and Kampuchea

Krom, Heng Ly motorbike market was a scene of frenzied activity, as local people

joined with soldiers in looting the last remains of the market.

"They have taken it all, this is all that's left," said one shop owner

nervously guarding the remnants of her market store. "Just let it be. We have

no choice," she added in resignation.

A burnt out tank stood at the crossroads of Pochentong Street and Kampuchea Krom,

a blackened testament to the failed attempt of Funcinpec troops to punch their way

into the capital.

Meters away, the Thai-owned Isuzu car dealership had been relieved of its stock of

vehicles. Troops led by Pun Pheap, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla now loyal to CPP,

had driven away ten pick-up trucks and four land cruisers, estimated at $200,000,

according to Yos Seha, the sales manager.

"I was here but I couldn't do anything. If I said anything they would have shot

me," he said. One hundred generators had been taken from a shop next door, before

police fought off the marauding soldiers to save the rest of the stock.

One witness in the area overheard the looting soldiers at Isuzu calling to their

comrades for help on ICOM radio after they experienced difficulty in driving away

their prizes.

"I don't know how to start this car, maybe it's broken down," said one

soldier, according to the source. "No, it's a new car," replied his interlocutor.

The conversation proceeded with advice on how to start the vehicle and put it into

gear, according to the eavesdropper. As the stolen car moved off jerkily down the

road, its driver was heard expressing a desire to visit Lucky Market.

At the corner of Kampuchea Krom and St 263, soldiers struggled to tie a third motorcycle

onto an armored personnel carrier. Hundreds of motorbikes had been plundered from

a distributor earlier that day, according to the soldiers.

"This is not a coordinated operation," said the commander. "Some of

our soldiers don't have motos and they need them, so we are taking them by ourselves.

One goes in and gets the moto and two guard. That's how it works. This is not an


Further ahead, along Pochentong Blvd all the way to the airport, soldiers were doing

a busy trade, selling stolen motos to local people.

Military vehicles of every kind - tanks, APCs, trucks and jeeps - crawled past, laden

with the fruits of victory. Motos with refrigerators and air-conditioners strapped

to the back weaved their way through the heavy traffic.

At petrol stations along the road - Total, Shell, and Caltex - the pumps had been

blown away and enterprising soldiers had stationed themselves at the exposed tanks,

accepting money from civilians to siphon off petrol.

Parked inside the Total station were two Renault military trucks which soldiers diligently

loaded with stock from the petrol station. Last year France donated a total of eight

Renault trucks as part of its military assistance to Cambodia.

The rear building at Cambodia Garments factory lay in ruin, devastated by a fire

caused by shelling on Sunday morning. In front of the factory military police were

hard at work, loading boxes of clothes onto their jeeps.

Civilians were clambering around the main gate, trying to get inside. The military

police fired warning shots to deter the civilian looters.

"The civilians go to steal things and then the soldiers go along and start shooting.

The civilians run away and the soldiers steal from the robbers. All the people -

civilians, military police, soldiers, police - they all steal together," said

one man.

Asked whether he thought they were doing anything wrong, he shrugged his shoulders

and said, "It's difficult to say."

At Pochentong airport itself, mayhem reigned. On Monday soldiers were seen towing

away a green tourist bus, duty-free stores were emptied of their contents and the

lounges were stripped.

The following day civilians moved in and began dismantling the terminal itself. Doors

and air-conditioning units were unscrewed, electrical wiring was ripped from the


"I asked one guy at the gate, 'Can I go in?', and he said, 'Yes, sure, go ahead.'

By the time we got there it was a hardware store. There's no airport there now, They'll

have to rebuild it," said one witness.

Meanwhile, in the center of the city, troops systematically looted the residence

of Prince Ranariddh and the home and party office of Khmer Nation Party leader Sam


According to independent observers, the plunder of the Funcinpec and KNP buildings

appeared to be an organized operation. One soldier identified himself as under the

command of National Police Chief Hok Lundy.

Civilians, held back at nearby checkpoints, saw soldiers taking furniture and household

goods and stowing them on waiting cyclos.

"They took everything that wasn't nailed down," said one observer.

In a speech broadcast on national television July 8, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen,

who is also joint commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forrces, expressed

his regret for the looting which overtook the capital in the wake of the conflict.

"About the anarchy that happened yesterday, on this occasion I join in sorrow

with the people who suffered from the anarchy, looting, robbery, and kidnapping for

ransom in some areas of Phnom Penh," he said.

Hun Sen attributed the cause of the looting to "anarchic groups and forces"

and to "bad men" but did not directly acknowledge the involvement of government

troops in the plunder. Nevertheless, he said that the military had been ordered to

return to their bases.



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