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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - French cut back military funding

French cut back military funding

FRANCE is ending its support to the paratroop Regiment 911 and scaling down its training

of the national military police in a shake-up of its military cooperation to Cambodia.

But the French Embassy in Phnom Penh has publicly discounted the possibility that

it will sever all links with the controversial military police, whose officers have

been accused of crimes.

The key cuts to French aid to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) will be to

Regiment 911 and to an RCAF officer "retraining" program.

However, France is considering a more ambitious project - the establishment of a

military academy to train new officers for Cambodia's air, ground and navy forces.

French Embassy military attaché Colonel Thierry Le Pelletier said France was

reducing its military cooperation because of cuts to France's national budget.

He would not say how much may be cut from France's annual $5 million military contribution

to Cambodia; nor would he say how much had already been spent on Regiment 911, the

military police and other military programs.

But France would soon withdraw its instructors of Regiment 911 soldiers, with Cambodia

taking over responsibility for their future management and training, he said.

911 was formed in 1994, with French and Indonesian support, intended to be an elite

fighting force to spearhead the army's campaign against the Khmer Rouge.

About 230 of the regiment's 1000 soldiers were sent to Indonesia for training. A

further 400 were trained in Cambodia by French instructors in subjects such as military

tactics, hand-to-hand combat, and emergency first aid.

"The regiment is nearly trained," said Le Pelletier. "We think that

we have given them impetus to begin. It is the turn of the Khmers to deal with this

force."

911, at least some of whose soldiers are understood to have been given guns by Indonesia,

took part in this year's dry-season offensive against the Khmer Rouge. In their first

key battle, a 57-member squad of the regiment lost ten of its soldiers in an ambush

near the Thai border in northwest Cambodia.

Le Pelletier dismissed the possibility that France would also end its support to

the national military police, but confirmed it would reduce the unit's French instructors

from four to two.

"The Khmer instructors we have trained will keep on teaching the men we have

not trained yet," said the military attaché.

France has trained about 1,000 out of the 4,500 military police (MP) force since

it was formally established in 1994, modeled on the French gendarmerie.

The MPs were intended to be an independent force to police Cambodia's military by

investigating crimes by rogue soldiers and ensuring military discipline.

In fact, some MPs, particularly in Phnom Penh, have themselves been accused of crimes

and of being used for political purposes.

Allegations against MPs have been reported by Khmer newspapers and Western media.

Last October, heavily-armed MPs were used to forcibly clear thousands of people who

attended a controversial Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party congress in the Capital.

In January, Minister of Justice Chem Snguon wrote to the Ministers of Interior and

Defense to complain about a group of MPs - who he said were loyal to the national

military police commander Kieng Savuth - who had for years prevented court staff

from serving an eviction notice to a Phnom Penh property owner with links to the

military.

France itself is known to have sought Savuth's removal, threatening to cut its aid

to the MPs if he didn't go - a threat it has not enforced; Savuth remains in charge.

Publicly, the French Embassy is sticking by the MPs.

"We will keep on working with the military police until the end of 1996 and

certainly for longer," said Le Pelletier, adding that France had been involved

only "on the fringes" of the MPs.

Le Pelletier said he had never heard of Snguon's letter. MPs may have been involved

in some abuses of power, he said, but "no more than" other police, army

or customs officials.

He noted that the MPs were not independent from RCAF control, and suggested that

was one reason for abuses.

"The Khmers took soldiers, gave them military police uniforms and said 'Here,

the military police force is created'.

"From then, we had to give them training in military subjects but also on human

rights."

Each of the 1,000 military police officers France had trained had received three-months

instruction, he said.

Meanwhile, another element of France's military cooperation - the retraining of existing

RCAF officers - would soon be suspended, he said.

Instead of continuing such training - which about 1,000 officers had received since

1994 - France was considering establishing an officer training school for new military

recruits.

"We will concentrate on the creation of a proper military academy for officers.

It will be an academy for the three forces: ground forces, navy and air force,"

said Le Pelletier.

"We will recruit the students after an examination and teach them general subjects

as well as military instruction."

An 18-month course for 80 students, taught by six French officers, was proposed.

But no final decision had been made and he did not know how much money France might

put into the academy.

France was continuing another part of its military cooperation to Cambodia, the provision

of advisers to RCAF administration and logistics offices.

France started its military cooperation, then worth $10 million, in 1994.

Since then, it has cut its funding to $5 million a year, out of a total French aid

budget for Cambodia of about $50 million.

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