RCAF Commander Orders Recruitment at Border

RCAF Commander-In-Chief Ke Kim Yan has ordered Oddar Meanchey provincial RCAF officials to recruit 1,100 young men in­to the military, according to an or­der obtained Monday, although it is unclear if the recruitment drive is voluntary or mandatory.

In his order dated Oct 17, Gener­al Ke Kim Yan demanded that 500 new personnel be selected and sent to reinforce border units in four districts of Oddar Meanchey province by Jan 31, with two more waves of 400 and 200 men to join the military before April and July next year.

Ke Kim Yan wrote that his order was based on a government decision dated Sept 1, which was not available Monday. Ke Kim Yan could not be reached for comment Monday.

Srey Naren, Adhoc coordinator for Oddar Meanchey province, said the recruitment push has confused villagers in Anlong Veng, Banteay Ampil, Samroang and Trapeang Prasat districts.

Officials said last month that a “voluntary” recruiting process in­volving selecting young men by lottery had started in Oddar Mean­chey. The latest order does not mention the word voluntary.

“First, they announced that it is a volunteer program,” Srey Naren said, adding that people who didn’t register their names on the voluntary “lottery” for recruitment have now found that they are listed.

“Villagers don’t understand; village chiefs said that they were sel­ecting militias and self defense forc­es,” he said.

According to a copy of Ke Kim Yan’s order, RCAF officials are to select fit and healthy men between the ages of 18 and 30, who can read and write, are taller than 160 cm, have not been convicted of any crime and do not work for the government. He also wrote that soldiers should be provided with a place to stay, as camping in tents or under trees would be bad for morale.

Srey Naren said villagers are concerned that only the poor are being selected to serve.

“Some have [powerful] relatives and they were not listed; they only listed the poor,” he said.

Yim Sovann, SRP lawmaker and former chairman of the National Assembly’s defense committee, echoed the same concerns and added that the government should have a strategy to build up military capacity rather than resort to this emergency recruitment.

“I think that we should prepare two years or three years in advance in order to train the soldiers because we need soldiers who have competence,” he said by telephone Monday.

The military conscription law passed in 2006 provides for 18 months of training for young men, and sending soldiers to the border frontline after just a few weeks of training would put their lives at risk, Yim Sovann said.

He added that corruption and the military’s ranks being filled with the names of soldiers that don’t exist was the real reason that actual soldiers could not be found when needed.

RCAF reportedly has a standing army of more than 100,000 soldiers, though military observers believe that a significant percentage are, in fact, “ghost soldiers,” which refers to names of troops that exist on paper only.

CPP lawmaker and chairman of the defense commission, Pal Sam Oeun, said Monday that he didn’t know about the recently ordered recruitment.

However, he said that the conscription law could not be enforced yet because the Defense Ministry has not issued a sub-decree to implement it.

Pal Sam Oeun added that the conscription law would not be used anyway, as it would give the impression of a large-scale war with Thailand.

Kong Vo, 52, chief of Tumnob Thmei village in Oddar Meanchey’s Banteay Ampil district, said on Monday that he was ordered to conscript five young men into the military, adding that he had not done it yet since the tension was not high at the border.

Kong Vo said that his villagers were worried about the recruitment.

“They are not happy, but they don’t know what to do,” he said.

“[The elderly] are worried that their children studied hard, and they want them to help work on the farms when they are old to feed them. But they are old and if their children get enlisted, no one would feed them,” he said.

Defense Minister Tea Banh and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the order.

(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)


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