Panel: Civil Society Needs Say in Military

The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace Monday recommended giving the Nation­al Assembly and Senate a greater role in defense and security policy matters.

After decades of war, Cam­bo­dia is rebuilding itself as a democracy, said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the institute. In a democracy, he said, “leaders of civil society should be involved in security and defense issues.”

The recommendations come from a conference held by the institute last month that was attended by more than 700 government and NGO representatives, police and military officials, parliamentarians, diplomats and students. The institute has been conducting a civil/military relations project in cooperation with the US National Democratic Institute for International Affairs with funding help from USAID.

Creating a distinction between national defense and internal security with separate mandates for the military and the police was strongly recommended.

It was suggested soldiers could help build roads and provide medical or other services. They also could take part in UN military or peacekeeping missions. “We have benefited from peace forces; now we should contribute [to them],” Kao Kim Hourn said.

While some soldiers should remain on active duty and receive professional training to protect the country, others could be transferred to reserve units, which would reduce expenses.

Trust needs to develop be­tween civilians and the military, Kao Kim Hourn said. Cambo­dians have learned to fear the military because of violent logging or land-grabbing incidents that involved people in uniforms who may or may not have been soldiers, he said.

Greater civilian involvement in military matters is crucial if demobilization is to work, said Eric Kessler, representing the Nation­al Democratic Institute.

“Discussions on demobilization have mostly taken place behind close doors,” he said. “If the government is not prepared to provide a safety net for those soldiers, it will fall on civil society to get them jobs and training.”

Prince Sisowath Sirirath, co-minister of defense, agreed, but Sirirath insisted the executive branch—not the parliament—should have control over defense and security.

“In every democratic country, the prime minister has the decision [power] over the armed forces [because] he makes the policy for both national and international [defense],” he said.

The institute met Monday to bring military reform to the attention of a semiannual donors meeting in Phnom Penh Wednesday.

 

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