samraong, Oddar Meanchey – The final fragile piece of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces slipped into place Friday when the government welcomed more than 5,000 royalist troops into the army.
About half of the 10,000 soldiers loyal to Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh were allowed back into the military—a compromise based on previous RCAF duty rosters that said only 4,500 government soldiers were with the resistance.
Resistance representative Long Serieroth pledged during the hour-long ceremony to support the Constitution and respect the government. But some of the 700 soldiers who took part in the ceremony admitted they were scared to return to a military machine run by men who just months ago were trying to kill them.
“I am afraid a little bit, but we must do this for the coalition,” said Brok Chan, 31, who served with former resistance leader Khann Savoeun. “We integrated because our bosses told us to integrate. I think there will be no more fighting in Cambodia.“
Friday’s ceremony was the final of a series of reintegrations that included both former Khmer Rouge and royalist soldiers. The Defense Ministry’s next challenges include reducing the number of troops, removing phantom soldiers, and ending the factionalism that sparked some of the recent battles, officials said.
Parallel rows of girls and boys welcomed military leaders to the 10 am ceremony, which included a display of machine guns, rocket launchers and other mid-sized artillery. Two groups of soldiers, already in new green RCAF uniforms with canteens and caps when the ceremony began, stood between two other clumps of about 600 villagers. Bags of rice were scattered through the rows.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh, who presided over the ceremony with co-Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath, said Friday’s reintegration was a testimony to the end of civil war. “For the last 20 years, fighting has caused our nation much difficulty,” Tea Banh said. “This finishes the civil war, which has been our nation’s aim.”
Neither Khann Savoeun, now a deputy commander in chief in RCAF, or Nhiek Bun Chhay, who has yet to return to Phnom Penh, attended the ceremony, and soldiers taking part said few of Nhiek Bun Chhay’s troops were part of the festivities. Khann Savoeun said he was worried about how the royalist soldiers would treated by the CPP-dominated RCAF. Many of the diplomats at the ceremony, however, dismissed such concerns.