W HEN somebody asks why people are fighting in Samlot it is generally safe to say
it is about money and little else. This time people are not so sure.
The isolated southern district of Battambang is rich in timber, and Thai logging
companies across the border are steady customers. Whoever controls Samlot has the
first dip into the more than $5 million a year the trade generates.
The reasons Iem Phan and Ta Muth switched sides from the CPP to the Funcinpec resistance
on Aug 8 were either economic, political or both - depending on the source.
Villagers fleeing the fighting claimed that revenues from logging concessions paid
by Thai companies did not make it into the right hands.
"There was a quarrel about money divided unequally to the civilians in the district,"
said a displaced villager from Samlot town. "Iem Phan planned to distribute
the money among the people, but some officials below and above him disagreed. The
fighting started when the commanders who couldn't get the money escaped to the government
Samlot District Chief Phan Sophal disagreed, saying that the motives were political.
"This is not a quarrel between people in Samlot. Anlong Veng Khmer Rouge and
Nhek Bun Chhay troops came to make the commanders fight each other," he said
in an improvised shelter in Treng.
He recalled that the fighting erupted in three of the district's six communes Aug
12, shortly after Iem Phan and Ta Muth met with hardline KR and Funcinpec resistance
leaders. "After the top generals from Anlong Veng and O'Smach surveyed support,
the commanders attacked the government," he said. "The story about the
money is to hide the political problem."
Thai logging companies paid the so-called "Front 909 Committee" 170m baht
(about $5m) this year for concessions to cut and export logs, according to Sophal.
"We gave 10,000 baht to each family in the district," he said. "Everybody
is expected to help cut the logs into sections. The Thais come to get the wood with
The district chief charged that Ta Muth owed the committee B20m that it would have
to repay the Thai concessionaire. He argued that the renegades had no financial reason
to be unhappy.
He claimed that Phan's loyalties to Hun Sen never ran very deep and had planned on
a split long before the concession fee was distributed. "When the fighting started,
Iem Phan announced that he had never trusted the CPP and had hid arms and ammunition
in the forest over the past year," he said.
He argued that Phan and Muth were unreformed hardliners with a penchant for nostalgia.
"They are turning the way back to Democratic Kampuchea," he charged.
Phan and Muth gained notoriety in July last year by leading a failed invasion of
Pailin, after Ieng Sary and his followers broke away from the hardline KR in Anlong
Both were re-educated for two months in detention in Pailin on the importance of
peace and national reconciliation. When Phan was allowed back to deliver the message
to his comrades in Samlot he broke from Sary and aligned himself with the CPP.
Ta Muth reportedly escaped from house arrest and fled northward to Front 250, between
Pailin and Malai.
The pair were wooed to CPP's embrace by Keo Pong, another former guerrilla close
to Hun Sen. Their relationship with CPP lasted, at least on the surface, until Aug
8 this year, when they 'defected' again.
They rekindled the name of their former KR command - Front 909 - donned their old
olive-green guerrilla uniforms again and allied themselves with the Funcinpec resistance.
Ieng Sary, interviewed last week, argued that the pair's alliance with the CPP was
initially a marriage of convenience that went sour for both economic and political
reasons. "We knew previously that the troops in Samlot did not clearly break
away from Anlong Veng," he said.
"We know there are two main problems. The first is economic ... and the second
is a political problem," he said. "The joining of Anlong Veng troops and
Funcinpec troops makes it become a political problem. Resistance troops tell us to
be careful - because we might lose our DNUM [Democratic National Union Movement]."
He surmised that Iem Phan was not given as much money as he expected for joining
the CPP. "As I know, the money from logs was a lot and the government side took
an amount and Phan got a small amount. That made the events happen," he said
"That doesn't mean that the government [took the money], but a person acting
on behalf of the government did."
After Phan announced his defection from the CPP, he reportedly said that the government
side had taken all of the money. "He said it was B750m, but the [concession
income] was less than that previously," said Sary. "I do not know who took