Angry soldiers fired warning shots at military police on Jan. 20 to avert
eviction from a prime central Phnom Penh plot where they have been squatting
with their families, witnesses said.
The 20-odd soldiers also warned the
military policemen they had mined the site, a former medical training school a
few doors from the Information Ministry. It has been earmarked for hotel
"The soldiers fired into the air to threaten the military
police because they thought the military police would surround them and try to
chase them off the land," a vendor who witnessed the standoff told
Gen. Khan Savoeun, secretary of state for the Interior
Ministry, arrived at the scene after shooting had died down. He calmed the
soldiers by promising to find a peaceful settlement.
"We don't want
forcible solutions otherwise this problem will spread," said Savoeun. "I
personally take responsibility for this and there will be no more
He said he had no idea who the land belonged to but he believed
there was corruption involved. "If not, the incident might not have happened,"
After tense negotiations the half-dozen military policemen
withdrew. The soldiers have since closed the site to visitors.
said the soldiers had heard the original owner of the land had died. They
believed by occupying the vacant lot they would be entitled to financial
Soldiers inside the compound said they were from the border
towns of O'smach and Rumchang; O'smach in the north of Cambodia was over-run by
fighting last year, Rumchang in the north-west was the former FUNCINPEC
The soldiers said they moved to Phnom Penh four months ago and that
the land they are occupying belonged to the government.
"When we came we
sought sanctuary with relatives, but after four to five days they were tired of
us," said one soldier who refused to give his name. "As a state employee, I only
ask for a piece of land to live on. If the government needs it back, I will walk
off," he said.
"If they want to solve the question peacefully, it's OK,"
he added. "But if they want to surround us with troops, it's a normal thing for
us...because we are not just para (military) in uniform, we are para in the
The soldiers complained they had not been paid for two months. A
soldier's salary in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is 35,000 riel ($14) per
month but pay days are often missed.-Reuters