National Assembly members on Friday called on the government to reduce the bloated ranks of the country’s armed forces before proceeding with a plan to institute compulsory military service for all those aged between 18 and 30 years.
Speaking after a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Defense, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann, who is the chairman of the Assembly’s commission on defense, said he formally asked the government to demobilize 38,738 soldiers from the estimated 110,000 people currently on the military pay roll.
“The government has to undertake reform first within the military framework by cutting those soldiers who should retire, but still remain, and those who have already died,” he said.
Yim Sovann said that almost 20,000 RCAF soldiers have reached retirement age but are still on the payroll.
Friday’s meeting between the Assembly Defense Commission and the Defense Ministry was to discuss the government’s draft law on compulsory military service, which would allow anyone aged 18 to 30 years to be conscripted and serve a year in the armed forces. The government plans to conscript between 5,000 and 10,000 people each year.
Monh Saphann, Yim Sovann’s Funcinpec predecessor on the Assembly commission, said that corruption and inequality would likely pervade the conscription process, and that reforming RCAF was more important that compulsory service.
“The country is so poor that conscription will pose a heavy burden on the state budget. We need more focus on military reform,” he said.
Defense Minister Tea Banh, who sent his subordinates to attend the commission meeting in his place, said that conscripted soldiers would be more likely employed in the area of “social” work than in doing battle.
“Every country in the world needs to have an army in place. Everyone is obligated to join this service. That’s why we need a law to regulate it,” he said.