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Border crisis a call to arms

Border crisis a call to arms


Thet Sambath
OddAr Meanchey Province

In Trapaing Prasat district, men young and old say ongoing tensions on the Thai border have persuaded them to enlist for service in the military

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DRIVEN by ongoing hostilities between Cambodia and Thailand over disputed border lands, a growing number of Cambodian men are putting their lives on hold and enlisting for military service .

Loth Sokhean, a 19-year-old student from Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province, quit his studies to join Brigade 43 - a military unit mostly made up of former Khmer Rouge fighters - shortly after the standoff near Preah Vihear temple began in July.

He is currently stationed at Phnom Trop, about two or three kilometres from the temple, where the simmering tensions exploded in a hail of gunfire between troops from the two sides last week.

"I joined the RCAF voluntarily, not by force," he told the Post. "I was angry when Thai soldiers invaded our temple."
"I carried my father's gun when I was a small child, and I have experience hiding from shelling in the battlefield with my father during the 1990s," he said.

Other men - not all of them young - have felt compelled by the border tensions to become soldiers.
Nun Rom, 39, lives with his wife and three children near Dangrek mountain, which demarcates Cambodia's border with Thailand.

I JOINED BECAUSE I SAW THAI SOLDIERS CONFISCATING CAMBODIAN LAND.

He served in the army from 1980 to 2003 and appealed to military commanders to allow him to return.
"I was accepted as a soldier after submitting my application," he said. "I was told I would receive my identification card from the Ministry of Defence this month."
Nun Rom said he was happy to be back in uniform and that he wanted to defend his country against any further incursion by Thai soldiers.

He added that some 280 men have joined the military from his home district of Trapaing Prasat.
Chheng Phea, 43, comes from the same village as Nun Rom and volunteered for service at about the same time.
"I joined because I saw Thai soldiers confiscating Cambodian land. If I didn't become a soldier, how could I prevent this encroachment?" he said.

Chhim Sereyrath, the 24-year-old son of a former Khmer Rouge cadre, told the Post he is ready to serve the Kingdom as a soldier if he is needed.

"If the government needs me, I will do it, and I know my friends and many others feel the same way," he said.
Chin Touch, 53, served as a Khmer Rouge medical officer from 1971 to 1980. She told the Post her sons would be prepared to volunteer in the event of a war with Thailand.

"I have three sons. They will serve if the government needs them," she said. "If there is war, I will tell them to be soldiers."
RCAF officials told the Post they have recruited new soldiers in Trapaing Prasat and Anlong Veng districts, as well as in several other provinces.

But Nuon Nov, deputy commander of Military Region 4, said he was not aware of recruitment efforts along the Thai-Cambodian border.

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