Soldiers at Ministry Suffering From Boredom

In the days of the civil war, RCAF soldiers working at the Ministry of Defense were constantly busy collecting reports from the battlefields.

But since peace has calmed those battlefields, an unusual quiet has also settled over the ministry, and RCAF soldiers now pass the time playing chess, cards and even using Khmer traditional medicine to make their skin smooth.

Some soldiers complain that they no longer have work to do, while others say after fighting for years, now it’s time to relax.

Sum Ath, an RCAF soldier working in the Defense Ministry, said since Khmer Rouge and resistance forces were integrated into RCAF in 1998 and 1999, he just sits in the office and sometimes reads the newspaper.

“I don’t know when I will have work to do,” he said. “If I do nothing like this for a long time, it will make me lazy and bored.”

Ly Ki Bun, undersecretary of state for the Defense Ministry, says there is still work to do, reports to gather and defense programs to monitor.

But the problem, he explained, is that integration has bloated the ministry’s personnel rolls.

“The soldiers are still busy even though the war has ended,” he said. “The structure of the Defense Ministry is to continue doing work…there are so many people in the office, so some might not have any work to do.”

A massive demobilization effort has begun to try to shrink Cam­bodia’s military.

Ly Ki Bun said that effort includes the laying off of more than 1,000 Defense Ministry personnel, which now number more than 4,000.

Cham Rong, who earns $20 a month from his ministry job, said he shows up at his office at the Defense Ministry for just one or two hours a day and then returns home. He said he spends most of his time working at his wife’s small business, which helps feed the family.

He has applied for work at NGOs and private companies, but has had no luck.

“I don’t want to be a soldier, but I’m obliged to accept it,” said Cham Rong, who has been a soldier since 1995. “I thought in a few years, the salary would be good. But now I am hopeless.”

Lang Samnang said there are benefits to the lack of work at the Defense Ministry, like having more time to learn English.

“We don’t need to pay money as our comrades who speak and write English teach us,” he said. “It’s a good chance for us to study other subjects for our future. When our English is better, we will be able to work at a private company and give up military service.”




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