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Back to school for Bun Chhay's boys

Back to school for Bun Chhay's boys

T he men sat at two tables and on the floor. Their clothes were dirty, and they doodled

or gazed around distractedly as a man in a neatly pressed uniform spoke into a microphone.

This was the "re-education" of former Funcinpec soldiers by the government.

Gen Mol Roeup, a military adviser to Hun Sen, stressed that "we consider that

these people are not prisoners, [but] our brothers joined with the government."

The class of 120 soldiers had to attend a week of education training, starting July

18, before they could be released. The campus was the shattered former Funcinpec

base of Tang Krasang; the curriculum consisted of lectures on "the tricks of

the Khmer Rouge" and "the reality" of the fighting in Phnom Penh.

"We want them to know the attack was not because of a coup d'état,"

said Col Un Sipho, a member of the military education committee. "The attack

happened because the government troops try to drive the Khmer Rouge soldiers and

the illegal troops out of the city."

With his pistol strapped across his chest, Col Tep Vichet, deputy director of the

fifth bureau of the Defense Ministry, discussed the bad actions of Prince Ranariddh

and the good actions of Hun Sen. "A good leader pays money to build schools

and roads, not to buy weapons."

During a class break, 19-year-old Kol Karona, who had fled with Nhek Bun Chhay but

was captured in Kampong Chhnang, was asked about the class. "I think it is interesting,"

he replied without enthusiasm.

As class resumed, Vichet carefully instructed his students that peace is good and

war is bad: peace produced prosperity and calm, while war leds only to injury and

death.

"Peace and war, which one do you choose?" asked Vichet, pointing at one

man.

"I choose peace," came the answer.

"Why?" prompted Vichet.

The soldier said slowly, "Because . . . " and then looked baffled, unable

to remember what he had been told just a few minutes before.

Another class member, Chum Buntha, 21, was paying more attention. Explaining that

he had been a bodyguard of Nhek Bun Chhay, he said that he now wanted to guard Phon

Pheap (CPP), a recent KR defector. "But I am afraid he do not trust me,"

he said, so he wanted to learn what was being taught in hopes that would help secure

him the job.

Col Vichet declined to estimate the effectiveness of his education course, but said

it was meant to act as a deterrent. "This can stop the brothers from seting

up illegal checkpoints and make them respect the army discipline," he said.

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