Forced Into Army, Villagers Fear for Livelihoods

kok morn commune, Oddar Mean­chey province – Villagers in Oddar Meanchey province say they are being forced to join the army to meet recruitment demands set by the military.

Government and RCAF officials, however, say they are in no way en­dorsing such a recruitment process, which appears to be illegal.

An Oct 17 order from RCAF Com­mander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan re­quested local officials to find 1,100 new soldiers in the province, though it does not say whether the men should be volunteers or draftees. Failing to find enough volunteers, at least one commune—Kok Morn in Banteay Ampil district—organized a lottery to select young men to be enrolled in the army, whether they wish it or not.

“It is illegal as far as I know to select soldiers [this way,] but I am a lower official, so I have to do or obey the order from high officials,” Kok Morn commune chief Ourn Vy said by telephone Monday.

The commune found 12 volunteers but had been asked in a meeting with RCAF district and provincial commanders to find a total of 35, said Ourn Vy.

A lottery was organized to pick 15 young men in each of the commune’s 18 villages, and a second lottery round Oct 31 picked 23 of those men to join the RCAF, he said in an interview at his home Sunday.

“They needed soldiers in my commune, so I started to select them by volunteering or by drawing a lottery,” he said.

The 12 volunteers and 23 draftees will be sent to RCAF district headquarters for training by Jan 31, Ourn Vy said. Ke Kim Yan’s order re­quests two more waves of recruits to join the military by April 30 and July 31, and more lotteries are likely to be organized, Ourn Vy added.

The men had no choice but to participate in the lottery, and if any of the 23 selected refuse to go, they will have to be forced, said Kok Morn com­mune clerk Vant Soth. Though villagers were clearly unhappy, none had yet lodged an official complaint, he added in an interview at his home Saturday.

However, Banteay Ampil district deputy RCAF commander Ou Sa­reun said he did not order commune officials to organize the obligatory lottery, and that the RCAF district headquarters would simply receive new recruits as they arrive according to Ke Kim Yan’s order.

Provincial Deputy Governor Yim Than said authorities were only planning to form militias at present, and that there was no plan at the provincial level to recruit soldiers.

Minister of Information Khieu Kan­harith said the government did wish to recruit soldiers but not by force and that he could not confirm or deny the forced recruitment was taking place because he had not received any complaints.

“We cannot force the people to be in the army,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Monday, adding the con­scription law passed in 2006 cannot be used to recruit soldiers be­cause the government has not yet is­sued a sub-decree.

“If they are really forced to be in the army, they can complain to hu­man rights organizations or to the UN or to the government office or to the members of the National As­sembly representing them,” he added.

Minister of Defense Tea Banh declined to comment on the recruitment process.

Villagers involved in the lottery process said they feel helpless and confused.

“It is not fair at all,” said Lor Sinny, a 23-year-old farmer in Sing village, who is one of the young men selected. The father of one and only son to a widowed mother, Lor Sinny said he would prefer staying home to tend to the family’s 2 hectares.

Lamenting over his poor luck in the lottery, he wondered why only a few were forced to serve.

“I want all the youths aged 18 to 30 years old to go because it is our country, not just my country,” he said in an interview at his home Sunday.

Khum Oeum, a widow and mother of a 21-year-old selectee who also does not wish to become a soldier, said her son returned from the lottery meeting with the impression that there was no way out. She said she was not aware of any possibility to appeal the decision.

Khum Oeum expressed particular concern because her son, who works on construction sites, is the primary breadwinner for the family

“He runs the family like a father to feed his brothers and sisters,” Khum Oeum said, adding her other children might have to drop out of school when their older brother leaves.

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