The US has formally asked Cambodia to commit troops to operations in Iraq and the government is considering the request, Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thursday.
US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli made the request to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Khieu Kanharith said.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen is considering the request, but I think we cannot send our troops,” he said. “We send our troops only for humanitarian action.”
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said he could not confirm that a request for Cambodian troops to serve in Iraq had been made. As a rule, the US does not discuss its diplomatic exchanges, Daigle said
“We can confirm that the ambassador met with the prime minister on Monday,” he added.
The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not sanctioned by the UN, but was carried out by a “coalition of the willing” that included Australia, Britain, Spain, South Korea, Italy and Poland as well as 44 other, mostly smaller nations, including the Marshall Islands, Mongolia and Angola. Japan has contributed non-combat military assistance.
Since the invasion, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Spain, Honduras, Norway, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Thailand, Hungary, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, the Netherlands, Moldova, Tonga and Iceland have withdrawn their troops from Iraq, many due to widespread domestic opposition to their presence in the strife-torn country.
Minister of Defense Tea Banh said that he did not believe that RCAF troops would be sent to Iraq. “We cannot send them according to our Constitution,” he said.
“Cambodia will not invade other countries, we will not send our troops to war in a country like Iraq,” he added.
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert agreed that deploying Cambodian soldiers to Iraq is against the Constitution.
Article 53 of the Constitution says “Cambodia shall not join in any military alliance or military pact which violates its policy of neutrality,” and “Cambodia shall not invade any country, nor interfere in any other countries’ internal affairs.”
“In the Paris Peace Agreements and in the Constitution, we have no right to send our troops to any other country,” Son Soubert said. “The government is right to deny the request,” he added.
But Koul Panha, the director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said in his view Cambodia can and should send troops, since the invasion toppled the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The operation would also earn money for the nation’s armed forces, he added.
“It is not waging war, we should go and help the US,” he said. “We can build our credit, learn skills and make money.”
RCAF soldier Nguon Non, 40, who is based in Battambang province, said he was happy to hear of the request and would be excited to go to Iraq.
“I want to be an international soldier to find peace for people,” he said.
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said that sending troops under the banner of the UN, as Cambodia is doing this week by sending deminers to Sudan, is one thing. But sending troops without UN direction is another, she said.
(Additional reporting by Erik Wasson)