Minister Defends Cancellation of Joint Military Exercises With US

Defending the government’s decision to cancel joint military exercises with the U.S. for the next two years, Defense Minister Tea Banh said on Wednesday the military had more important work to do—namely to ensure the stability of upcoming elections.

“If we focus too much on exercises, it will cause us to miss important jobs,” General Banh told reporters after leaving a closed-door annual meeting at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ (RCAF) high command headquarters in Phnom Penh.

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Defense Minister Tea Banh attends an annual meeting at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ high command headquarters in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“In 2017 and then in 2018, there are events in Cambodia. I am not talking about political issues, but about the military sector, in which we need to​ maintain stability and ensure that the elections are free and fair,” he said.

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said on Monday that the routine Angkor Sentinel exercise was dropped to focus on the government’s six-month drug crackdown, which began on January 1, and the commune election slated for June this year.

“It’s involved with the next commune election that will be held on June 4. So we need to collect the forces to protect the good security and public order for the people,” General Socheat said. “All the postponing is temporary, so wait until those issues end, then we will resume.”

National elections are scheduled for the middle of next year.

Political analyst Meas Ny said the government’s repeated announcements that it would deploy significant portions of the military to secure elections was “threatening” to voters.

“The military is used for national defense so they should not use it in election circumstances,” Mr. Ny said.

“They can use the military in circumstances like armed confrontations, but for election processes, they should use police” to ensure fair elections, he said, adding that military police could be used if violence broke out.

“Usually, when they use the military to patrol…it’s a threatening act,” he said.

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