Next year’s budget contains no funding for a controversial force of 50,000 village-level militiamen, and many soon will be disarmed and demobilized, top government officials said Wednesday.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has repeatedly attacked the forces as a tool of the CPP. Human rights groups have accused the militias of carrying out executions of political opponents and extrajudicial killings.
“I want the government to demobilize these militias because there is no point in keeping them if we have peace,” Rainsy said Wednesday. “It wastes a lot of money which could be used for development.”
Though originally formed to protect villages against Khmer Rouge attacks, proponents of the militias say they often keep order in towns without adequate police.
Co-Defense Minister Tea Banh said Wednesday that authority over the force soon will be transferred to the Ministry of Interior, and the $2.6 million allocation to clothe and feed them has been eliminated from the budget.
But details on how many militiamen will be demobilized and over what period of time remain to be worked out, he said.
Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng complained that the lack of earmarked funding will make the task of demobilizing the militiamen harder. “We need a budget to cut them.”
In preparation for the demobilization, the government has been quietly organizing commune-, village- and neighborhood-level security units to act as lookouts and assist police.
But that in turn has fueled fears among some that the same militias will continue to operate—carrying out political intimidation and mob violence in the leadup to the commune elections with sticks and rocks instead of guns.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Tea Banh said. “We will consider whether and how many of them should be kept and how many demobilized.”