Soldiers in Cambodia's far northwestern Banteay Meanchey province have accused their commanders of blatant corruption, nepotism, and fraud, saying they were ripping off veterans of their pensions and running an illegal logging business using military vehicles along the border with Thailand.
The soldiers made their accusations against subregional commander Plong Dara and his deputy Keo Senglorn in a 16-page complaint to local rights group Adhoc.
Thirty-nine soldiers affixed their thumbprint signature in the complaint statement, saying they represented the whole of Banteay Meanchey’s provincial armed forces.
Sources close to the soldiers said that they had filed complaints previously to Prime Minister Hun Sen's cabinet and to the Ministry of Defense, relevant military institutions and the Anti-Corruption Unit but to no avail.
Instead, after the complaints, 20 soldiers were fired, the sources said.
"It was all about money," a soldier, who asked not to be named, told RFA's Khmer Service. "They [the commanders] bribed the Ministry of Defense's Inspectors" to avoid being detected, the soldier said.
Defense official accused
The sources accused the Ministry of Defense's secretary of state Neang Phat of abetting the commanders and firing the soldiers who had earlier filed the complaints.
"Neang Phat helped fire those soldiers to eliminate evidence," they said.
RFA tried calling Plong Dara about the complaint but he hung up on the reporter.
The soldiers also attached documents showing that the salaries of soldiers had been cut without any reasons for several years.
The documents also listed "phantom" names of soldiers and suggested that the commanders were stealing pensions from retired soldiers and family members of soldiers who have died, and exploiting the benefits of 159 disabled soldiers.
The names of the soldiers whose salaries were compromised were identified in the complaint.
They also accused the commanders of using military property, including trucks, for their personal business. They cited instances where military trucks had been used to transport luxury wood illegally from Thailand.
"On Dec. 4 and 6 [last year], Plong Dara ordered soldiers in Camp 505 to transport wood using six vehicles from Thailand to Sereisophoan for his private business," they said in the complaint, which also accused the commander of encroaching on military land.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Sum Chankea called on the Ministry of Defense to investigate the allegations, saying the commanders had abused the law and should be suspended pending the probe.
"If this problem continues, it will affect the morale of the soldiers who have sacrificed for the country," he said, citing the questionable salary cuts as an example.
Another soldier told RFA that before any investigation, the commanders must be temporarily suspended so that investigators would be able gather more information on the various cases implicating them, such as ordering soldiers to bring in luxury wood from Thailand.
The soldier claimed that Thai soldiers had shot and killed some of the Cambodian soldiers who were forced to carry out the illegal logging.
Cambodia is the most corrupt nation in Southeast Asia, according to the latest survey by Transparency International. In a world ranking, it placed 160th among 177 countries.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.