anlong veng, Oddar Meanchey – As mud-choked roads further isolate this former Khmer Rouge stronghold from food supplies, villagers here last week accused the government army of looting the village of valuable rice stocks.
“There were at least 20 trucks a day that government soldiers used to transport rice out of Anlong Veng,” said Thoeun, a Khmer Rouge defector who earlier this year helped RCAF forces oust hard-line rebels from this remote town. “It took the RCAF about three weeks to drain the rice out of Anlong Veng.”
Several civilian defectors also said stocks of stored rice existed before the pro-government mutiny in April forced them to flee to temporary camps. When they returned two months later, they said, the rice stocks had disappeared. The stocks, some said, contained enough rice to feed the district’s current population of 15,000 for two years.
Residents here also accused the RCAF of stealing four pieces of heavy industrial equipment, including two bulldozers and one road resurfacer.
The allegations come at a time when the Ministry of Defense has largely blamed their budget excesses on supplying the defectors in Anlong Veng, who appeared last week almost completely reliant on the government for food.
The Ministry of Defense is projected to spend 136 percent of its budget allotment for 1998.
In May and June, when many civilians returned to Anlong Veng town after fleeing the fighting, the RCAF undertook frequent trips by helicopter and truck to supply the district with donated rice and clothes.
Soon after June, heavy rains made travel by truck nearly impossible.
Two top RCAF generals who commanded the northern campaign disputed the charges that their troops looted Anlong Veng and even questioned the existence of the rice stocks and heavy equipment.
“The RCAF did not take any rice, but maybe defectors themselves did it,” Meas Sophea, deputy chief of RCAF general staff, said Monday by telephone.
General Preap Tann, the armed forces’ director of civilian relations and psychological operations, implied Monday that the rice and equipment was not left behind by Ta Mok, the hard-line rebels’ military chief.
He said that it made no sense for the Khmer Rouge to abandon such valuable supplies or equipment in fighting zones and called the allegations a distortion of the facts. “To me, this is just ridiculous,” Preap Tann said.
A military analyst said Tuesday that he was surprised by the allegations, saying that the army made a great effort to transport rice and clothing to defectors following the mutiny and takeover.
“Petty theft I would not question…. I would not find that out of the ordinary,” the analyst said. “But as a wholesale sacking of Anlong Veng, I would not accept that.”
However, a government insider on Tuesday called looting of captured places “in the operational plan” of the armed forces, and pointed out that the same type of theft happened in Pailin in 1994 and in Phnom Penh in 1997 following government military victories.
“Military leaders must protect their soldiers who are very poorly paid,“ the insider said. “If they prevent their soldiers from doing that…then the guns will turn against them.”
Residents said Ta Mok for many years had stored up husked rice in a granary inside the town for his own export to Thailand.
“Ta Mok used to buy rice from villages at a low price and store it in a big granary,” said Pheap, a 24-year-old drink stand operator.
But, after the mutiny and the entry of RCAF troops into the abandoned town, the rice stocks disappeared, Pheap said.
RCAF trucks in June were witnessed by Cambodia Daily staff systematically removing scrap iron and other salvageable materials from a mostly abandoned Anlong Veng.
Phou Phoeun, 72, a veteran Khmer Rouge soldier who said he stayed in Anlong Veng after the mutiny to assist the RCAF, also accused the government army of taking the rice and tractors.
“Rice and tractors should not be looted. At the very least, they should leave rice for villagers to eat,” Phou Phoeun said.
Additionally, residents said last week they now have virtually no food of their own, citing the unrest and poor rainfall which prevented them from planting their own rice crops.
“We’ve been out of food for the two months of November and December,” said the district’s deputy chief, Poy Roeun. “We were unable to farm this year because we were running from place to place…. Now we have to rely on the supplies from the government.”
The mutiny began in late March when some 2,000 Khmer Rouge troops stationed in the north declared their defection to the government. Clashes ensued between hard-liners and mutineers in Anlong Veng.
After several days, hard-liners fled to the north taking with them two tanks and the imprisoned former Khmer Rouge supremo, Pol Pot.
RCAF reached Anlong Veng in early April and, with the direction of defectors, ousted the hard-liners from northern Anlong Veng district in early May. During that time, Pol Pot died near the Thai border.
Since the decisive offensive in early May by RCAF and the new defectors, Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea have been at-large and Khmer Rouge forces scattered.
The rank and file of the Khmer Rouge on Dec 4 declared their final defection, with some 20,000 soldiers and civilians expected to return to Anlong Veng, mostly from refugee camps on Thai soil.
(Additional reporting by Marc Levy)