Senator Nhek Bun Chhay, pictured here shortly after he left Phnom Penh following the July1997 coup. He is listed among those still receiving a salary despite having fled to O'Smach after the fighting.
CONFIDENTIAL document from the Ministry of Defence that has been obtained by the
Sam Rainsy Party shows, the party claims, that the state continues to pay the salaries
of soldiers who are dead - including top officers from Funcinpec who were killed
during the July 97 coup.
The list, dated July 22, 1999, names 153 men who served in the armed forces until
1997, the majority of whom were either left jobless after the coup, or were killed
during the fighting. The list is headed by Funcinpec senator Nhek Bun Chhay who lead
the resistance in O'Smach following the coup. But others on the list either perished
in the fighting or aftermath.
"We are not sure how many of the listed men are dead," said Phi Thach,
Chief of Cabinet for the Sam Rainsy party, "but we know those who are high-ranking
These include General Men Bunthorn, General Ly Seng Hong, Colonel Thlang Chan Sovannarith
and Colonel Heuv Sambath, all killed in the July 97 coup. Also included is General
Nuon Vanna, killed in fighting at O'Smach in 1998.
Asked where he believed the money from the salaries was going, Phi Thach said he
could not know for sure, but that "surely someone high-ranking is responsible".
The Co-Minister of Defence, Tea Banh, said he knew exactly where the money was going.
"The state continues to pay the salaries for the dead soldiers although they
have passed away," he said, "but their families get the money instead of
the men." He added that the state would continue to pay the salaries "for
Not true, according to Phi Thach.
"Close relatives of one of these dead soldiers came to me and complained that
they have not received any money from the state," he said. He said it was his
understanding that no bereaved family on the list had received any salary since the
death of its soldier family-member.
The list mentions names not only of dead soldiers, but of soldiers who fled the country
during the 1997 coup. One of these men, who talked to the Post on the understanding
that his name not be used, said that he had not received a salary since the coup,
but that his name was still being used on the payroll.
"Immediately after the coup, I was told that my salary was at RCAF General Headquarters,"
he said. "But then I was told that the salary was transferred to the Chief of
General Staff. I was told that the money was to go to 'other goals'."
He said that his colleagues who had fled with him in support of Prince Ranarridh
had all been left without salary, but that those who stayed behind in the country,
although they were still jobless, were in fact receiving salary.
"I became a kind of ghost soldier," he said.
"I am sure the government cannot scratch my name from the list because I was
nominated by Royal Decree," he said. "Those not nominated by decree were
scratched from the list - I don't know whether their salary is still used or not."
Tea Banh, however, was dismissive of the pseudo-ghost-soldier's story.
"If we ask just one soldier, he will not tell us the truth," he said.
When asked if he had queried his pseudo-ghost-soldier status with the authorities,
the soldier admitted that he had found it hard to complain.
"But I did seek to discover the truth. I came to ask some questions to General
Headquarters about my unit and my salary and so on. When I asked people there they
said they were just following orders from their superiors."
But it seems that the ghostly status is about to change for him and others like him.
Just recently, the soldier was contacted by the army and told to re-apply to his
unit, with pictures of himself, wife and children, plus a full CV and career record.
"They will check the new application against the old," he said, adding
that the army needed to know who was officially still on the list and who was a "real"
"Colonel Ung Vuthy promised that I would be reintegrated properly on the payroll
and that I would receive my salary from June 99 onwards," he said.
But as the government continues to put into action its steps towards demobilization,
it seems possible that in fact this is just the first step on the way to permanently
decommissioning soldiers who have until now hovered in the grey areas of the army
But the pseudo-ghost-soldier is realistic about the role he would play in a reformed
RCAF, even if he was to receive full salary again.
"I do not think they would give me my old job back," he said. "I think
I would be kept somewhere quieter where they do not have to worry about me, because
I am a Prince Ranarridh supporter."