The Cambodian government has fulfilled its promise of demobilizing 15,000 soldiers by year’s end, officials said at a ceremony Wednesday in Kompong Thom that returned 385 soldiers to civilian life.
“With help from the donors and the international community, today we have successfully ended the first phase of demobilizing 15,000 troops,” Minister of Cabinet Sok An said at the ceremony.
Sok An told the soldiers their sacrifices would not be forgotten, and he urged them to be patient as they adjust to civilian life.
The demobilization effort has picked up speed in recent months after a slow start last year, officials said.
The government’s ultimate goal is to reduce the nation’s army to between 70,000 and 80,000 soldiers.
Each soldier is receiving a compensation package of food, cash and materials worth $1,182. The total cost is expected to be $42 million, with the government paying $7.2 million and the rest coming from the World Food Program and aid agencies in Germany, Japan, the US and Australia. The process began slowly because donor money was late and critics said the stated size of the army—130,000 troops—was inflated by “ghost soldiers” added so officers could pocket their salaries.
The demobilization plan initially called for 11,500 soldiers to be mustered out last year, 10,000 this year and another 10,000 next year. In fact, only 1,500 soldiers were cut in 2000.
This year, the government said it removed 15,551 ghost soldiers and 159,587 ghost dependents from payrolls.
In mid-October, demobilization began in earnest, with between 1,200 and 1,500 soldiers being cut each week.
The government has also slashed the defense budget for next year by $5.7 million, but that is not expected to affect the demobilization program because of the high percentage of foreign funding.
(Additional reporting by Kyodo News and The Associated Press)