anlong veng district, Oddar Meanchey province – While Yea Yoeun said his life is much easier now during peacetime than when he was a soldier fighting with the Khmer Rouge, the rebel-turned-RCAF officer said earning enough money to survive is now a constant challenge.
“Being an RCAF soldier is much easier because there’s no more fighting like before,” the 38-year-old said earlier this month. “During the Khmer Rouge time, we had food supplies so we didn’t worry about food…. Now we have to work on our own to feed ourselves.”
Yea Yoeun, who abandoned the Khmer Rouge when Anlong Veng fell to the government in 1998, said his current financial worries are exacerbated by his RCAF superiors who routinely take a 30 percent cut of his monthly salary.
After payroll deductions, he said, he only receives $17.50 of his $25 per month.
He did not know what the deductions were for.
In their tiny, smoke-filled wooden hut on the outskirts of Anlong Veng town, Yea Yoeun’s wife and children weave bamboo shingles on the dirt floor and sell them at 250 riel each to supplement the soldier’s modest income.
“The majority of the people here are not so well off,” said former Khmer Rouge medic Seang Huot, who also is now an RCAF soldier for Division 43.
The poor living conditions of residents here are made worse by corrupt officials who take advantage of the destitute, he said.
Seang Huot, 45, said his superiors deduct more than 50 percent of his monthly pay.
“They deduct every month,” he said. “They deduct for Kathen [Buddhist ceremonies], they deduct for fundraising, and for relief. They deduct this money from poor soldiers.”
Out of his $20 per month RCAF salary, he said, he receives only $7.50 to $10.
“I don’t know where the money goes,” Seang Huot said. “If we complain, we get in trouble.”
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh last week denied his soldiers’ claims of unofficial pay cuts, adding that such deductions were illegal.
“It is not true that we deducted one’s salary. The one[s] who told you so, they must be bad liars,” Tea Banh said. “We give them all [their] money every single month. Otherwise, people will react.”
Hok Sovann, commander of Oddar Meanchey province’s RCAF military subregion, however, acknowledged that his officers do deduct money from soldiers’ salaries.
But, he said, such pay cuts were occasional and only 1,000 riel is taken from each soldier at a time.
“The money just goes to the military funds” used for expenses such as soldier funerals, he said Tuesday.
Criticizing his troops for complaining, he added: “Why don’t Anlong Veng soldiers make donations?”