For more than a year, about 700 veterans in Banteay Meanchey province have not received the pensions they believe are owed to them, according to a human rights group and a veteran who is taking their case public.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation has not paid pensions to soldiers who left the ranks of the military last year as part of an effort to trim the armed forces’ payroll, said Kong Savin, a 56-year-old veteran.
“Since I have become a retired soldier, I have never received a pension, and I don’t know how much I will get,” he said.
In a ceremony on March 30, 2008, Ministry of Defense officials handed departing soldiers—some of retirement age, some leaving voluntarily, others disabled or amputees—a bonus worth eight months’ salary, about $250 for most, Mr Kong Savin said. This money was an encouragement to leave RCAF, not an advance on pensions, he insisted.
He and other veterans have asked the provincial department of social affairs for their pensions but have been consistently asked to wait, he said.
“When we asked them in December, they told us that we would them get in January. When we asked in January, they asked to wait till February,” he said. “But we get nothing.”
The veterans have not publicly protested yet and would prefer not to, but most of them, unable to work because of their age or disabilities, cannot hold on without payment much longer, he added.
“I don’t have a job to do. My children are studying. I don’t have money to support them,” he said.
Samheng Boros, cabinet chief at the Ministry of Social Affairs, denied the accusations.
“It is not right. No such case has happened. [Today] the Ministry of Social Affairs will make a clarification about this,” he said. He declined to explain what pension, if any, those veterans could be entitled to. Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng could not be reached, and Secretary of State Say Siphonn declined to comment.
According to Suom Chankea, Banteay Meanchey coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, the ministry’s reputation is at stake. He has seen the veterans display anger and disappointment at the provincial social affairs department when their request for payment was again turned down, he said.
“They shout loudly, but the [department of] social affairs does not solve the problem,” he said. “If [it] does not solve the problem soon, it will affect its honor itself, and everyone will think that the [department] is corrupt.”
The provincial social affairs department’s director, Heng Chamroeun, declined to comment Tuesday.