Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Conscription and fear sweeps Siem Reap

Conscription and fear sweeps Siem Reap

Conscription and fear sweeps Siem Reap

SIEM REAP - Forced conscription, extortion and violent intimidation by authorities

have led to at least one death and created a climate of fear in this northern province.

Military conscription of villagers has been reported in at least five of Siem Reap's

14 districts, according to local villagers and human rights workers. Dozens of men

are said to be on the run to avoid being sent to fight resistance soldiers loyal

to deposed Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Proeung Houn, 24, was reportedly shot dead by soldiers in mid-September during a

conscription sweep in Tetrav commune, in Prasat Bakon district about 16km from Siem

Reap town.

About 100 soldiers descended on Ampok village and tried to detain all men aged 16-45,

according to local people interviewed Nov 13. Nearly all the men in Ampok fled to

Tetrav village, 3km away, but Houn kept fishing on his farm, they said.

"He finished reeling in his fishing line, put the fish he had caught in his

belt and started on his way home," explained a cousin, who asked not be named.

Soldiers spotted Houn and called for him to stop. When the fisherman disobeyed and

ran, he was shot dead, his cousin said. "They shot him in the back and the bullet

came out his chest. It broke his heart."

Rights workers said they received reports that the shooting took place at about 1pm

on Sept 14 - a few hours after a similar conscription swoop in the neighboring district

of Sautnikum.

A 35-year-old Tetrav farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said another farmer

from Ampok was captured and beaten the same day. "They hit him and said he had

to pay 5,000 riels before they would set him free."

He and other villagers said that soldiers - from Military Headquarters No. 48, about

5km away - offered two choices to the men they captured: pay up or be drafted.

"Boys had to pay more than older men," said the farmer. "Gray-haired

men must pay 5,000 riels and young boys as much as 50,000 riels."

To avoid such swoops, Tetrav residents said they had now been told each family must

pay 3,000 riels each month to district authorities. But they are not confident that

the "war tax" - ostensibly used to protect the district office - guarantees

them protection from the draft.

"I never sleep in my home because I am afraid of being drafted," one 50-year-old

farmer said.

Human rights workers said they have confirmed reports of forced conscriptions and

extortion in the districts of Chi Kreng, Angkor Thom, Prasat Bakon and Sautnikum.

They have yet to confirm similar reports from Angkor Chum district.

The problems began in mid-August when government forces attacked the resistance stronghold

of O'Smach, in northernmost Siem Reap province on the Thai border. Repeated government

attacks have failed to capture the area, apparently causing the government to call

up reinforcements.

Forced conscription appears particularly common in Chi Kreng district, about 65km

east of Siem Reap town.

Forty new recruits in "self-defense" units from Chi Kreng were seen in

two large trucks in Siem Reap town, on their way to the O'Smach battlefield, on Nov

11. They included at least two boys - aged 15 and 16, they said - and several men

who said they had been drafted involuntarily.

"We will fight because we are ordered," Som Chea, aged 16, said sheepishly

from one truck. Asked if they were looking forward to their journey, the soldiers

responded in unison: "No, we don't want to fight," as the truck pulled


In Chi Kreng itself, villagers expressed a widespread fear of the army taking away

family members. "I don't want them to take away my boy. I want him to study,"

said one 51-year-old resident of Samroang Thom village. "If the war continues,

they will try to take our sons. We don't want any more war. No one in this whole

village has [voluntarily] joined the war."

One local soldier in Chi Kreng said that 30-40% of the soldiers in the area were

drafted "to protect the district and keep order".

Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay was unapologetic about the draft in a Nov 13 interview

at his provincial office, saying that national service is necessary for the protection

of the province. "I can draft everyone... In terms of self-defense, everyone

can be sent, even my staff."

The governor said the draft was necessary to "stop the infiltration" of

resistance and KR forces into the province. "We have to organize our self-defense

force [or else] they will come and torture [people] and put mines in the ground....

I don't make any war, I just want self-defense."

Human rights workers, meanwhile, said they have received a flood of reports in recent

months about forced conscription.

A typical case was of that of Bai Kamplunh village, 33km east of Siem Reap town,

which was raided by soldiers the same day as the killing in Ampok.

"Soldiers lined the road with their guns drawn," said one rights worker.

Two soldiers stopped a man to ask him why he did not respond to their commander's

order to meet him, arrested him and took him with a group of others to a miltary

camp. "The man escaped from the camp, but two soldiers saw him escaping and

shot at him ten times... one bullet went through his arm, but he kept running and

escaped," the rights worker said.

In Prasat Bakon district, military draft "lotteries" and informal "war

taxes" have touched at least seven villages in two communes, according to rights

groups. Village and commune leaders typically took down the names of all men aged

16-45 and then selected which ones would be conscripted.

In at least three of the villages, "anyone who didn't want to go to O'Smach

had to pay 20,000 riels," said a rights worker. "Almost every man paid....

they borrowed money. The commune chief said the money doesn't go into his pocket,

but it goes to support the war effort."

In Angkor Thom district, about 20km north of Siem Reap town, local villagers said

they faced arrest if they didn't heed the government's call to arms. One 18-year-old

boy from Ta Prok village said he had run away from soldiers, so they detained his

mother in his place. "Soldiers made her pay 100,000 riels before they would

set her free. If she hadn't paid, they would have taken her cow."

The boy - who, like all interviewed by the Post, insisted on not being identified

- said the situation is the same in the three neighboring villages.

"I'm still on the run," he said, as a barber cut his hair on the side of

the road. "I have never returned to sleep at home, not for three months. If

police find me at home, they will arrest me."

"If a family has a boy who is 13 or older, they will be drafted. If they don't

want to go, they have to pay," said a 41-year-old man from the same village.

In neighboring Peak Sneng commune, a farmer said that soldiers there are demanding

5,000 riel per son from every family, while those without sons are expected to pay

2,000 riels. "Everyone pays," he said. In his village, the money was given

to the soldiers selected to fight so that they can buy kramas, a hammock and clothing.

"When he first becomes a soldier, he cannot collect his salary for two or three


For those who are conscripted and sent to the frontlines, difficult conditions await

them, according to patients and staff at the new military hospital in Siem Reap town.

Hieng Sambol, aged 39, a hospital assistant who was decommissioned from O'Smach on

Nov 5, said fighting, malaria and landmines face those heading to the front. "There

is fighting every day, but few people are being killed," he said, explaining

that mines and malaria caused the most grief.

Sambol, who said he has been stationed near O'Smach since August, said many soldiers

are being sent to the front to replace those who are being decommissioned.

A veteran government soldier who battled Pol Pot's fleeing forces in 1979, the resistance

of the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge of the 1990s and now the resistance once again, said

he has had enough of war and seeing other men die.

"I can't count the number of battles I have fought.... I detest war. I don't

want to fight anymore [but] the government keeps ordering me to. I don't want to

make war, war is difficult."


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