Soldiers involved in an ongoing land dispute in Kompong Speu province on Wednesday accused an RCAF general of not paying their salaries for “punishment” because they recently spoke out for their rights.
Six soldiers of the military’s development bureau in Phnom Penh alleged that their commander, General Chum Tong Heng, acted to keep their salaries away from them for more than a month because they took part in recent protests. The six soldiers led protests against a local commander and provincial military police in August after a house owned by one of more than 110 military families involved in the land dispute against the general was destroyed.
“We believe he got angry at our protest and then stopped paying the salaries,” one of the soldiers, who asked not to be named, said at the Legal Aid of Cambodia office. “We are separated from our families. We can’t live without salary.”
But Chum Tong Heng denied their accusation Wednesday. “Where is a document? Can you prove it to me?” he said.
The soldiers are representatives of military families who filed a land complaint in January with the Kompong Speu provincial court. The families claim they are being unfairly evicted by the general from the 103 hectares of land they now live on near Route 4 in Phnom Srouch district.
Chum Tong Heng was summoned three times earlier this year by the provincial court to respond to the families’ claim, but has failed to appear to answer. He has maintained the dispute is an internal army dispute.
“The six are my soldiers….I have thousands of soldiers…and the Ministry of National Defense is the top institution. It is totally a military issue,” the general said Wednesday. During the dispute, the soldiers were transferred from the Phnom Srouch unit to the Phnom Penh office, which Chum Tong Heng oversees.
After the transfer, intimidation and threats by the military to the families calmed down until the local military commander destroyed the house about two months ago, the soldiers claimed.
(Additional reporting by Im Sophea)