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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Armed forces conscription draws debate

Armed forces conscription draws debate

A BOUT 30,000 Khmer men are likely to be affected by a draft compulsory military service law to go before the National Assembly soon.

All men aged 18-35, except those disabled, will have to serve 18 months in the army, air force or navy under the law approved by the Council of Ministers on November 23.

Co- Minister of Defense Tea Banh said the draft bill, if passed by Parliament, allowed for some temporary exemptions.

Students studying at high school, faculty or university would be able to finish their courses before being conscripted.

State servants and private workers would not be able to postpone their military service if they were urgently needed in the military.

Tea Banh said the Ministry of Defense would select recruits through a test and send them to military training schools for 6 months. After that, they would be sent to the army, navy or air force.

He pledged that the government would follow the letter of the law when conscripting people.

He said the draft law was not a signal that the government could not defeat the Khmer Rouge, but was recognition that Cambodia needed a strong armed forces to defend it.

News of the government plan received mixed responses from an informal survey of people.

"I am not happy with the law," said Prum Vannit, a moto driver.

"I don't want to work as a soldier and leave my wife and son."

Vannit, who said he had been made to leave his school and home to join the army during the State of Cambodia regime, said the government should not do the same to people now.

Chan Sophat, a 20 year-old student at Bak Touk high school, agreed.

"It [the law] will spoil my future...I don't want to be a soldier....I hate fighting."

Brak Chhun, a 26 year-old farmer, was concerned that local authorities would exhort money from him in exchange for being exempted.

" During the former State of Cambodia, my house had been surrounded at night by police and militias.

"First they said they needed me to join the army, but when I arrived at their office they asked me for money...I am very concerned about this."

Others, however, were more accommodating toward the law.

Chor Sokunthea, a photographer for The Cambodia Times newspaper, said he was very happy with the draft.

"I will be happy to join the Royal government's army."

Chey Vannak, a 25 year-old university student, said he was not angry or unhappy with the idea of military service.

"What angers me is the injustice...I will comply with the law if the sons of officials or ministers do it too," said Vannak.

Kol Virak, a 24 year-old moto driver, said he would be very glad to join the army.

" I want to work as a soldier rather than a motor taxi driver...I tried to offer a bribe of $30 for a job in the army, but I failed. I was asked $ 60 for job as a sergeant."

Unofficial conscription already exists in Cambodia, according to the latest report by the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Justice Michael Kirby.

It cites complaints of enforced conscription, and the demanding of money from people who want to be exempt.

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