P HNOM LAO village, Kompong Trach district, Kampot-Dozens of angry government soldiers have deserted their posts in Kampot, saying senior officers had pocketed their pay and food allowances.
The deserters were among hundreds of troops brought in from Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh to surround Phnom Vour (Vine Mountain) where the Khmer Rouge are holding three Western hostages.
Many other soldiers who have remained behind told the Post they would not fight until they receive compensation for their missing salaries. Some enlisted men said they had not been paid their stipend of up to 48,000 riel ($19.2) for three months.
Major Meas Sam Ol, a company commander in charge of 70 soldiers from Siem Reap's Military Region 4, spoke of the problems in an interview with the Post on Sept 18.
"Several soldiers have run away from their positions back home because their salaries have been cheated by their leaders," he said.
"Each of the soldier's salary was deducted 18,000 riels every month without any reason.
"This did not happen in only my Division 5 [but] in every division."
The Major said since he and his men were moved down to Kampot in May they had also not received their daily food allowance of 600 riel.
"Even me, as a Major in charge of 70 soldiers did not get paid either... I am very angry, I'm waiting for journalists for a long time to reveal the fact to them." said Maj Sam Ol. "Through your paper I hope the world will know about my and other soldiers problems." he stressed.
The officer said that any government plan to capture Phnom Vour was doomed to failure because the soldiers morale was low because of the missing pay and two or three were going AWOL every day. He added that ammunition was also low. "Some soldiers have three bullets and some others have 20 bullets in their guns." said Maj Sam Ol.
His story was backed by Lieutenant Siv Chan standing beside him.
Lt Chan said: "This is true, please publish my name in your paper... I am not afraid of being killed.
"I and several other soldiers wanted to hold a demonstration to kill them [senior officers] since our salaries were deducted." he added.
"But I'm afraid that the problem will affect my innocent wife and children at home.
"They [high ranking soldiers] did not only cheat soldiers' salaries but also took away soldiers' equipment such as hammocks and raincoats provided by the Royal Government in Phnom Penh, to sell them to market traders.
"I am here not only for fighting...but also need money for my family, I have a wife and three children and they depend on me" Chan said.
"They [leaders] did not only deduct my salary, but also my wife and children's salaries... I did not get my children and wife salaries for 2 months." he added. "I don't know why did they do this... do they want me to kill them [leaders] or do they want to kill my family."
He said that Cambodia will never have peace if soldiers continue to be cheated out of their salaries. "Today the soldiers ran away from their position, tomorrow or the following days they might defect to the Khmer Rouge." Lt Chan said.
Som Sao, a twenty-seven year-old soldier, said this month 18,000 riel was deducted from his 38,000 riel salary "for no reason."
He said he had also thought about deserting but he had nowhere to go.