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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Graft fears grow over army plan

Graft fears grow over army plan

S KEPTICISM is growing as to whether the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) military reform plan can be successfully implemented without first stemming the corruption involving high-ranking officials.

The government has tentatively announced plans to reduce the size of the army and deflate the ranks of its personnel in the wake of western nations linking the giving of military assistance to successful reformation of the RCAF.

A high-ranking army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said to the Post: "How do we reform [the army]?

"The plan doesn't look like a reform, rather it is an attempt to reduce military rank as the first step."

The official expressed skepticism that the reform of the RCAF was likely to succeed unless priority was given to cope with corruption scams that run rampant within the RCAF.

"They [military officials] are involved in corruption, they have formed a clique that is not easy to deal with," he said.

"We have to have a new and clear military strategy. National defense strategy and strategy to eliminate the Khmer Rouge are two different things. The KR are not strong but we are also mediocre."

A US military delegation, led by Brigadier General Mark Hamilton, arrived in Phnom Penh on Sep 17 to conduct an assessment of the RCAF's reform plan.

The non-lethal assistance the delegation is considering giving to Cambodia is the first of its kind since the 1970s and worth approximately $1 million, according to a US embassy statement,

The assistance includes demining and road-building training, construction equipment, medical equipment, and international military education and training.

"The US is not sending arms, ammunition, or other lethal aid to Cambodia, and has no plans to do so at the present time," said the Sept 16 statement.

At a press conference on Sept 14, Peter Tomsen, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, appeared not to rule out giving lethal aid to Cambodia.

But he said there had to be effective institutions in the country receiving military aid, otherwise the giving of such aid would not really work.

He said the Cambodian military reform plan was a vital first step, and added that the US non-lethal aid package would professionalize the RCAF making it an effective depository for more aid.

He also made his remark on the issue of "ghost soldiers"- a scam where generals appropriate the salaries of soldiers listed on RCAF enrollments who are not actually in the army.

Tomsen said: "It's no secret that the question of the ghost soldiers, of corruption in general, has to be addressed before military reform can really go forward and be successful."

He gave full support to the decision by the Cambodian Parliament to outlaw the KR, and he added that Cambodian officials had convinced him the KR threat could successfully be eliminated through economic development of the country.

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