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Bandits active in the East

Bandits active in the East

K IDNAPPINGS and robbery by the Khmer Rouge and bandits have recently increased in Memot district in Kompong Cham province.

According to police sources at least 50 peasants, businessmen, rubber company staff and soldiers have been killed, and about 80 kidnapped, this year.

Som Pier, an officer of Memot rubber company, said Khmer Rouge rebels had kidnapped his staff from houses, plantations and even video or coffee shops, demanding ransoms for their release.

Par Pov, 21, the owner of more than 12 hectares of rubber plantation in Memot, said he was kidnapped by a group of KR gunmen in October.

The KR sent his family a ransom note demanding 6 domlengs of gold (one domleng is worth about $440), two cases of beer, four cartons of 555 cigarettes, seven pairs of shoes, one stereo, 11 blankets, two pans and one pot of chicken soup.

Pov said he and six others kidnapped were released after their families paid whatever they could afford, sometimes only two or three domlengs of gold.

He complained that the KR guerrillas would have had to pass government and militia soldiers' lines to reach his rubber plantation.

The police, however, had asked for 100,000 riels to provide security for his plantation.

"I don't understand. They are supposed to provide the security for the people, but they've tried to exploit the people.

"I could not trust any gunmen, even the government's soldier or policeman," he said.

The "Pol" (Khmer Rouge) were the same as "Pieng" (the Royal Army) to him, he added.

Soth Soy, 31, said he had twice been abducted since July and was very scared to go to his fields for fear it would happen again.

He was first abducted by the Khmer Rouge, who released him after his relatives paid a gold ransom, and the second time by people he suspected were local villagers.

He escaped from his captors the second time.

He said he had no choice but to try to flee because he could not ask his family for more gold.

"I owed my relatives more than one domleng from when I was first abducted. I have no money to pay them. Now, even they want to kill me."

Som Pier said security in Memot was becoming worse. Government and provincial soldiers and police sent to the district to crack down on the crimes had done little.

It was very hard to recognize or trust any gunmen.

"Khmer Rouge pretend to be government soldiers, and some government soldiers pretend to be Khmer Rouge - I think hostages are becoming a kind of business for the men of the jungle," Som Pier said.

Taxi drivers on the bandit-plagued road 7 from Memot to Snoul in Kratie province also complain that government soldiers supposedly providing security are a big danger.

About 200 soldiers have been deployed along the 40km road, where motorists have often been held up by robbers.

Taxi drivers, however, say the soldiers demand money from 500 to 30,000 riels to allow cars to pass their checkpoints.

One said soldiers had fired into the air or at his feet to try to get him to offer more money.

"My life is very dangerous - it depends on luck," he said.

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