The National Assembly will debate and likely approve a controversial new draft law today establishing compulsory military conscription to bolster the already bloated ranks of RCAF, officials said Thursday.
The chairman of the National Assembly’s Defense Commission, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, and commission member SRP lawmaker Chrea Sochenda, said they would boycott the vote, which they branded unnecessary and open to abuse.
The draft “Law on Military Duty” states that all Cambodia citizens aged between 18 and 30 must fulfill military duty according to the requirements of the Ministry of Defense. This mandatory service applies only to men however, and joining RCAF will remain voluntary for women aged 18 to 30.
One senior defense official said the government expects to recruit between 3,000 and 5,000 new soldiers next year.
The annual quota of recruits and how these they will be chosen is not specified in the law, prompting critics to fear the process will be open to abuse by unscrupulous officials seeking to extort money from those willing to pay to avoid military duty.
The law states that those already working in the private sector can apply for deferrals, but only up to three years, and that monks and other religious leaders will not be considered for draft.
Failure to show up for duty will result in a one year prison term during peacetime and three years during war. Conscripts will serve 18 months in the armed forces and then be on reserve status, the length of which will also be set by a future royal decree.
“I am worried that there would be corruption and injustice,” Yim Sovann said. “It opens up the chance of threatening people to fulfill the duty as soldiers.”
Yim Sovann said the defense commission’s deputy chairman, CPP lawmaker Pal Sam Oeun, will present the law in parliament. Yim Sovann said he will boycott the meeting and claimed that only CPP lawmakers will vote for the law.
Former defense commission chairman and Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Sophan said the law is unnecessary.
“It is not a necessity,” Monh Sophan said. “We are not yet in a situation where we are preparing for war.”
Defense Minister Tea Banh said the draft would not work if it were made purely voluntary.
“No law would work [if it was] voluntary,” he said.
Defense Ministry Secretary of State Hak Savuth said 3,000 to 5,000 troops would be recruited next year to add to a current total uniformed force of around 110,000 soldiers.
“If it were voluntary, the children of the senior [officials] and rich people would not volunteer, only the poor children would volunteer,” Hak Savuth said. “The law is for everyone,” he added.
He said that any corruption in the recruitment process would be dealt with.
“There is punishment for people who avoid their duty and the people who conspired with them,” he said.
Chea Vannath, former director of the Center for Social Development, said the draft may offer young people the chance to become more disciplined and get mentally and physically fit.
“Lately, I feel young people in Cambodia don’t have the opportunity to go through training,” she said.
Officials have said they wants the draft to create jobs for the young, she said. But she added that it would be preferable for the government to reform and fight corruption, so the young can find better paying jobs in the private sector instead.