Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday moved to quash what he called “rumors” that the government would implement the military conscription law and reiterated his desire to find a peaceful solution to the border dispute with Thailand.
Villagers and commune officials in Oddar Meanchey province said earlier this month that local men had been selected for military service by lottery and were required to join the military whether they wish it or not by Jan 31.
The military call, local officials said, was based on an order by RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan.
“We have more than enough soldiers to fight; we don’t need to conscript students to fight,” Hun Sen told more than 100 participants at a scholarship award ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.
The National Assembly passed a military conscription law in 2006 that obliges all 18- to 30-year-old Cambodian men to serve 18 months in the armed forces, though the government has not yet issued a sub-decree to implement the law.
Hun Sen said the law would not be used in the near future.
“Of course we need to reform the military, but it isn’t time to implement the conscription law because it would cost a lot of money,” Hun Sen said.
“Students shouldn’t be concerned; the government doesn’t even have enough money to demobilize the soldiers,” he said, referring to long-standing plans to one day retire elderly troops from the ranks and replace them with a young, professional fighting force.
Some, however, were not convinced by the prime minister’s promise.
“Hun Sen’s comment contradicts the Ministry of Defense’s action. I doubt the Ministry of Defense will not implement the law,” said San Chhey, executive director of the Khmer Institute for National Development.
Srey Narin, Adhoc coordinator for Oddar Meanchey province, said people in her area are still concerned for their safety if they are forced to join the military and for their families’ livelihoods.
Minister of Defense Tea Banh could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In his speech, Hun Sen also repeated his wish for a peaceful solution to the border dispute near the Preah Vihear temple.
“We don’t want to wage war with anyone; we want only peace without any invasion,” he said, vowing to continue negotiations with Thailand but adding that Cambodia reserved its right to self-defense.
Hun Sen also denied reports that RCAF has only 40,000 soldiers and warned against discussing troop levels, which he said was a confidential matter. He said it could be to Cambodia’s benefit that its military strength is underestimated.
“We don’t respond when outsiders think that we are weak and they want to attack us,” he said.
Opposition party lawmaker Cheam Channy said by telephone later Thursday that he understood the Cambodian military’s strength to be about 100,000 soldiers, though he feared that many were only names on paper, known locally as “Ghost Soldiers” and that the actual figure was lower.