The military has drafted a broad long-term reform proposal that would transform Cambodia’s bulky wartime force into a smaller, better trained army.
RCAF put the finishing touches on its draft “white paper,” after eight of 10 generals on a committee returned from Canberra Dec 18. The two-week stay, during which they received technical advice, comes after months of discussion on how the military can best serve the nation in the post-Khmer Rouge era.
Generals involved in the plan stressed that it is only a working document, subject to modification by government committees.
Still, the document marks the first time the military has developed a long-term planning document. And it provides a window into what military leaders see as the largest challenges to Cambodia now that the Khmer Rouge threat has dissipated and 30 years of civil war have ended.
“Cambodians have been in war a long time and we don’t have any clear policies yet,” Lay Bun Song, director of international relations for the Ministry of Defense, said. “We want to show the world, and show our people, the government has a clear [military] policy.”
The document, which would guide restructuring efforts over the next five years, incorporates many policy statements made in recent months by Prime Minister Hun Sen and RCAF Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan.
It places an emphasis on “maintaining capacity to ensure stability and social order within Cambodia and to support the national interests.” It also stresses regional cooperation and the protection of Cambodia’s land and maritime borders.
It emphasizes the link between internal security and development, suggesting also that forces may be deployed in “nation building” tasks, such as assisting in development projects. It also proposes a role for Cambodian forces sometime in the future in UN peacekeeping operations.
The paper will now be considered and may be modified by a 23-member review committee that includes representatives from the Ministries of Finance, Interior, Rural Development and others. Once approved, the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly would have final say.
“We had three main objectives,” Suon Samnang, deputy director of cabinet for the Ministry of Defense, said, “to set up the principal guidelines for RCAF to perform its own reform and restructuring, to promote mutual understanding on security issues among regional friends, and to create transparency among the military for organizations, the government and the people in Cambodia.”
The document highlights the importance of policing borders, where tensions between neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos have often flared, and where transnational crime syndicates dealing in weapons and drugs have been known to operate.
It notes in one part that the objectives of the military include, “developing over time, an enhanced capacity to protect Cambodian interests in surrounding maritime areas” and “protecting the nation’s borders against the unauthorized movement of people, drugs, criminal activities and other goods.”
Oil deposits and fishing rights have been the subject of disputes between Cambodia and its neighbors, but Cambodia is not known for a strong navy.
The document suggests “engaging in confidence-building measures with Cambodian neighbors, including meeting of senior officials for the development of security dialogues and programs of interests of joint training and exercise opportunities.”
“Cambodia fully intends to use peaceful conflict resolution measures to avoid physical confrontation,” it states.
The plan calls for the military to downsize. Although no specific measures are laid out, General Neang Phat, director of information for the Ministry of Defense, said the government has decided to demobilize 1,500 soldiers in four provinces in March. A total of as many as 10,000 will be demobilized in 2000, followed by the demobilization of 10,000 more in 2001, and 10,000 in 2002, according to a demobilization document.
Cambodia’s military stands officially at about 160,000—a ratio of one soldier for every 62 people. Australia by comparison has a population of 19 million, and a military force of only 52,000—a ratio of one soldier for every 365 people. About 55,000 Cambodian soldiers are expected to be lopped from the payroll over the next five years, more then 20,000 of whom are “ghost soldiers.”
The White Paper also foresees a unit that would contribute to UN peacekeeping operations overseas sometime in the future
—a symbol to other nations that Cambodia is no longer one of the world’s hotspots.