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Looted goods a steal in Kampong Speu

Looted goods a steal in Kampong Speu

K AMPONG SPEU - Many goods looted from Phnom Penh in the wake of the July 5-6 fighting

are now being sold by soldiers in Kampong Speu province, according to local residents

and officials.

Soldiers from Battalion 44, based 30 kms southwest of the provincial capital at Sre

Klong on Route 4, have been seen selling motorcycles, televisions, mobile phones

and other items at bargain prices.

According to human rights workers, brand new motos were suddenly available in the

Kampong Speu city market two or three days after the fighting ended. A moto reportedly

sold for $200, a car for $700, and a television for as little as $16.

However, prices have since risen. One soldier said that the new motos available in

Treng Trayeung village, near Sre Klong base, now cost $700.

Perched astride a rickety-looking motorbike, the soldier explained that he had been

involved in the fighting and looting in Phnom Penh: "I wanted to get a moto,

but my commander said no, that we were still fighting, and to wait until after. But

other soldiers came in behind me and took all the motos. The commanders did not take

motos. They took cars." Other soldiers took several bikes each, but "I

got only what was left after all the other motos had been taken - this one,"

he said, pointing to his sagging bike . "It is old and broken and was lying

on its side. The brakes don't work but it's better than nothing."

Moto and car dealerships, businesses and homes near the contested area of Pochentong

Blvd in Phnom Penh were pillaged after the clashes in the city. The deputy commander

of Military Region No 3, which covers Kampong Speu, said he was in Phnom Penh during

the fighting. When asked about soldiers looting and selling goods, Keo Pong said,

"I don't know about it." However, fatigue-clad troops whizzing around on

shiny new motorcycles, conspicuously lacking license plates, are now a common sight

on Kampong Speu's roads.

"My son was going to buy a new moto from one soldier for $200," said Keo

Souren, a mathematics professor. "But he decided not to buy because it was not

legal and there might be problems, and also because he was afraid he would give the

money to the soldier and then the soldier would take back the moto anyway."

The professor confirmed that the sellers were soldiers from several units based at

Sre Klong. He added that while goods were being offered openly immediately after

the fighting, now most trading is taking place in secret.

Other local residents concurred. "We don't know anyone buying or selling anymore,"

said a teacher. "We heard on Hun Sen radio that there is a reward now for reporting

stolen goods." Residents agree that any selling is now occurring more or less

underground, between soldiers and those they already know and trust.

Some canny looters may be disguising their ill-gotten gains by selling it in pieces.

A Kampong Speu garage owner reported that "many people have come from spare

parts stores in Phnom Penh and other places, wanting to buy parts from me."

Although he said he had not received or sold any 'hot' items, he mentioned that demand

was especially high for Toyota Landcruiser parts, with a handbrake system going for

$300.

Still other soldiers merely got rid of their stolen goods as soon as possible, regardless

of price. A television repair shop owner reported that he was offered a truckload

of TVs a few days after the fighting at $200 apiece. Thinking them too expensive,

he declined to buy. "Then the soldiers took them to the police checkpoint and

sold them for 40,000 riels each," he said.

But Hak Korn, commander-in-chief of the military police post and checkpoint at Kandol

Dom, said he had instructed his officers not to buy stolen goods. "A few soldiers

came to try and sell ICOM radios to my soldiers," he said, "but I just

told my people not to buy because this thing is not legal and it might be taken back

by the government or the owner. On the other hand we are armed forces. If we take

this thing, we might be accused of stealing." He admitted, however, that his

officers might have gone behind his back and bought things.

Roeung Dara, a 23-year-old military policeman at the checkpoint, reiterated the police

position. "We don't want to buy because we are law enforcement - we can't buy

illegal things like this," he said. He did report that he was offered Motorola

and Samart mobile phones for $100 by soldiers from Battalion 44. When asked why he

did not arrest the soldiers for selling illegal goods, he said that he was afraid

of them, and that he had no orders to arrest them. "But we can arrest these

people if the government supports us one hundred percent," he added.

Dara then offered to sell a visitor a mobile phone for $120.

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