Military officials said Tuesday that soldiers had returned to base and handed in weapons as ordered by Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan on military-run TV5 Saturday. Residents in remote parts of the country, however, reported otherwise.
Soum Kosal, commander of RCAF’s 12th Brigade, Military Region Four, in Preah Vihear province, said that all of his 2,000 men—except a few with special permission—had returned to base, “according to the order of Ke Kim Yan.”
“During the election, I gave each soldier three days for voting—two days for traveling and one day for the election. We ask all soldiers to return because we want to maintain security and stay neutral.”
But an NGO worker in Preah Vihear who asked not to be named said that armed soldiers were roving freely just 10 km from the provincial seat. “They carry the weapons and threaten the people, businessmen, or do logging around this area. They are not afraid of anyone because they are far away from the high command,” the NGO worker said.
Witnesses have reported armed RCAF soldiers in the past few days in Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Speu provinces.
But armed, off-base soldiers in the countryside are not unique to election season. “They always have weapons, all of the time, every place in the jungle and this village,” said Chan Veth, a Battambang province farmer who asked that his hometown not be named.
Meas Sophea, a CPP loyalist and deputy commander of RCAF infantry, again dismissed rumors that the commander in chief’s order was directed at potential Funcinpec rebels. “We do not do any threat to our partner military commanders. All Funcinpec commanders have come back to the office to work after the elections.”
Mean Sarin, a top Funcinpec officer in RCAF and another deputy commander of its infantry, agreed, saying that RCAF would not involve itself in the formation of a new government. “This is the politicians’ matter. Let them solve the problem among themselves.”