pailin – The country’s highest-ranking army officials addressed hundreds of former Khmer Rouge soldiers here Wednesday to encourage a renewed sense of solidarity.
The delegation was led by RCAF deputy commander-in-chief Kun Kim, who spoke to roughly 500 of the more than 1,500 former Khmer Rouge soldiers now stationed in government Division 22, Region 5. The address was held in Prum village, less than 40 km from this former center of Khmer Rouge activity.
“We come here, we want to make sure that everything is smooth and no problems occur in the future,” said Sou Kim Sun, a two-star general, after the address. “If soldiers have complaints, they must tell us first …and we come here to see their conditions.”
Last month, former Khmer Rouge commanders who now head government troops in Division 22 filed a formal complaint with the army’s top brass, after salaries of more than 1,000 soldiers were cut by 270 baht ($7.20) per month for three months. Soldiers in Pailin also distributed leaflets, claiming that Division 22 finance officers were personally profiting by withholding more than a third of each soldier’s salary. Wages were reinstated last week. On Wednesday, Kun Kim assured the soldiers that if any changes are made in their salaries or any cuts in their ranks, he would inform them ahead of time, officials said.
When asked about any larger, political purpose to forge stronger ties with Khmer Rouge soldiers, Kun Kim said, “We came here only to talk about the soldiers and to solve their problems” as he boarded a helicopter back to Phnom Penh after the address Wednesday afternoon.
Sou Kim Sun hinted that trouble in recent weeks had been stirred up by former Khmer Rouge soldiers aligned with parties other than the CPP. While officials assured the rank-and-file that at least for now their conditions will remain the same, Pol Saroeun, another RCAF deputy commander-in-chief, cautioned that the military will have to be downsized over the next few years. After the address, he said he told former Khmer Rouge soldiers they will have to learn new skills if they want to survive in a post-military society.
Although government troops and Khmer Rouge soldiers for years fought a bitter civil war, almost all the commanders who gathered later on Wednesday spoke of togetherness. None mentioned the possibility that a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders could disrupt Cambodia’s fragile peace.
“Before, we had problems, now we are all together again,” said Leng Hourng, a deputy regiment commander in Division 22.
Government and former Khmer Rouge generals emerged from a restaurant Wednesday night, arm-in-arm, reminiscing and laughing about the old days of war. Yet a handful of Division 22 commanders were notably absent. According to some authorities gathered Wednesday evening, at least one Division 22 commander remains skeptical that Khmer Rouge soldiers should give over all of their power to the ruling CPP.