Four days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report criticizing Washington for supporting Cambodia’s “abusive armed forces,” a Facebook page containing photos cited in the report has been removed from the Internet.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Facebook page titled “Angkor Sentinel 2014” is managed by the U.S. Army Pacific, which sponsored last month’s 10day Angkor Sentinel exercises in Kompong Speu province.
The exercises, held annually, are said to be aimed at improving Cambodia’s capabilities in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
HRW, however, charges that images uploaded to the Angkor Sentinel 2014 Facebook page—which show Cambodian soldiers pointing AK47 assault rifles—suggest that not all the exercises were related to humanitarian assistance or disaster relief.
This, HRW claims, is a breach of a bill signed in January by U.S. President Barack Obama that suspends all direct aid to Cambodia not used for humanitarian or human rights training.
“I am not surprised in the least that the page has been removed,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
“They want to make sure it is down before Congress started looking into it and saw the pictures. Capitol Hill will be asking lots of questions.”
U.S. Army Pacific did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh again defended U.S. training of Cambodian troops.
“The photos posted by the U.S. military on Facebook show Cambodians being trained to respond properly to the threat of improvised explosive devices, a persistent danger in Cambodia’s peacekeeping operations throughout the world,” Mr. McIntosh said.
“The Facebook page is managed by U.S Army Pacific so I refer you there for procedures on the management of the site.”
HRW also pointed to a YouTube video of the Angkor Sentinel closing ceremony, in which a soldier is seen wearing the distinctive red beret of RCAF’s notorious Brigade 911, which has been accused of serious human rights abuses.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed Friday that 911 members were present at the opening and closing ceremonies of Angkor Sentinel, but said “personnel from the Air Force, Navy, NCTSF, and Brigade 911, however, did not participate in the training exercises.”
Neither the U.S. Embassy or senior RCAF personnel have revealed which RCAF units were involved in Angkor Sentinel 2014.