A former Funcinpec general claims more than 7,000 former resistance troops are eking out meager existences near former rebel base camps in the northwest, barely able to survive because the CPP-dominated government refused to reintegrate them nine months ago.
CPP officials maintain they have integrated all the former Funcinpec troops. But they claim thousands of former resistance weapons were not returned during reintegration ceremonies.
Military officials from both parties deny the alleged soldiers pose a threat to security, and dismissed any possibility they are linked to resistance activities.
Serey Kosal, who serves as a security adviser to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said the 7,000 former troops are peaceful and will not fight again. But he said they are living in poverty and have little food. “I think everyday of this question,” he said. “I don’t forget my old staff, especially those soldiers at the border who sacrificed so much.”
Serey Kosal said more than 400 former soldiers have created a village in an “area that is not good for their health,” in Samlot, Battambang province. Others live in the O’Smach area of Oddar Meanchey province with local families. Food is scarce, Serey Kosal said, so he and Prince Ranariddh have given rice and machetes. But it is not enough.
It has been nearly a year since warring factions put aside their differences and agreed to a new coalition government. The army split in July 1997, leading to scores of killings of officers and soldiers, mostly Funcinpec loyalists. Simmering combat continued in isolated border areas late last year.
Negotiations over how many resistance forces would be integrated continued until the last batch formally joined RCAF in ceremonies last February. However, the two sides could never agree on an exact number, and Funcinpec has long claimed not all of its troops were taken onto the government payroll.
Prince Sisowath Sirirath, defense co-minister, and a senior Funcinpec member, placed the number of unintegrated resistance troops at 5,000. He said the soldiers went back to their families and are now farmers.
But as before, CPP officials showed little concern over the situation in recent interviews. They say the soldiers either do not exist or were drafted to pose as soldiers at the last minute so Funcinpec officials could receive higher ranks—by beefing up the number of troops under their commands—or more government funds.
“Before the reintegration, there were only 2,000 Funcinpec soldiers listed on the payroll,” said Chea Saran, deputy commander for the army. “We integrated 5,000, which means an extra 3,000 anyway. “We only welcomed those who are registered on the payroll list. We have no money to pay for those as right now we need to demobilize soldiers.”
Said Tea Banh, co-minister of defense and CPP member: “I don’t believe there are still 5,000 Funcinpec soldiers left over at O’Smach. It can’t be like that.”
He said some of those not integrated were either too young or too old to be soldiers.
One CPP general, however, accused Funcinpec of withholding weapons. Chea Saran said more than 1,000 weapons were never returned. “That is a strong concern.
These weapons can reach the hands of bandits like those groups in Kampong Cham, Kratie, Mondolkiri and Banteay Meanchey,” he said.
But Prince Sirirath said Funcinpec returned all its weapons and that the confusion is due to the fact that not every soldier that was reintegrated had a weapon.
Several articles in a pro-government newspaper, The Vision, have described a new resistance movement operating in remote areas of Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Kompong Cham provinces. The articles purport to interview the movement’s leader.
They also claim 10,000 former O’Smach troops were never integrated and that the “illegal forces are in contact with the Khmer Serey movement and are poised to join the self-proclaimed Khmer Freedom Movement soon.”
Both Serey Kosal and Prince Sirirath claim their former fighters are peaceful and will not join up with any rebel movements.
“They always listen to my order and don’t make trouble with the government or administrative chief,” Serey Kosal said. “They live and do nothing and have no problems with the army. They practice politics of our party: cooperation and friendly relations with the CPP.”
Serey Kosal said the government has a responsibility to take care of the rest of the former Funcinpec fighters. “It’s very easy to solve this problem,” he said. “Why cannot some officials in the government solve this problem? Why? Why? It’s very easy. It is very important and the government must know. They have no food and no medicine.”
One military analyst said he was skeptical that 7,000 former Funcinpec soldiers remained. But he said a faction of former Khmer Rouge guerrillas joined Serey Kosal’s forces on the border during the fighting, and many of them were never integrated.
(Additional reporting by Im Sophea and Chris Decherd)