Tanks Removed From Burning Tank Village

To the dismay of local Khmer Rouge veterans, the eight rusted Russian tank hulls that gave Burning Tank village its name were trucked out of Pailin municipality last week.

Keut Sothea, a former rebel and deputy governor of Pailin, said Tuesday that RCAF-escorted workers from an unnamed company dismantled the T-55 tanks to manageable sizes before hauling them off.

He said locals were told that the scraps would be sold as spare parts for tanks still in use.

“They might be moved to Vietnam,” he speculated.

The tanks, provided in the 1980s by Vietnam, were de­stroyed in 1994 when the Khmer Rouge reclaimed Pailin before chasing government soldiers about 85 km eastward to Phnom Sampov, about 15 km from Bat­tambang town.

“We wanted [the tanks] to stay here to remind us of our fighting history,” Keut Sothea said.

“The Pailin people, especially the former Khmer Rouge soldiers, were very surprised to see the tanks taken away. We de­manded that they remain here, but those [RCAF] officers said they had orders from a high-ranking leader.”

One irate former rebel, who claimed to have had a hand in destroying one of the T-55’s with an anti-tank shell, suggested Tuesday that the removal of the tanks was politically motivated.

“I think they want to hide [the tanks] from foreigners and visitors so as not to remind them of the government troops’ defeat in the 1994 fighting with the Khmer Rouge. Or to eliminate evidence that they are from Vietnam,” said the veteran, who declined to be named.

“However they cannot hide from history because the place where the tanks were destroyed is named Burning Tank village. The new generation will learn from their grandfathers.”

The rebel said that there were no plans to rename the village.

Pon Lok, another former rebel, was also unhappy. “Foreign and Cambodian visitors always took pictures of the tanks along the road. They were interested in seeing them,” he said.

Keut Sothea said that municipal officials have discussed for several years the idea opening a Khmer Rouge war museum, where they had hoped that the tanks and other discarded weap­onry could be assembled.

But they could not find the funds for the museum.

Chhun Nhib, a former Khmer Rouge commander and current deputy commander of Military Region 5, said Tuesday that several lucrative offers for the tanks had been rejected in the past.

“Some people offered us $80,000 for these burning tanks two years ago, but we did not sell them. We wanted to keep them for the museum,” he said.

Now “we do not know what we should do. Even if we protested the tanks’ removal, we would not get them back. Let them go,” Chhun Nhib said.

He said an order for the tanks’ removal was signed by Co-Min­ister of Defense Tea Banh, Com­man­der-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Meas Sophea.


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