Cambodia's military ranks are set to receive a further influx of new troops, including 350 destined for the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, according to official documents that surfaced recently online.
According to a decree signed by the premier on July 21, the Ministry of Defence was given permission to recruit 500 soldiers – 150 as infantry troops for the Special Military Zone, which covers Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Chhang, with the rest designated as personnel for the Bodyguard Unit, which on September 4 celebrated 26 years since its formation.
The decree calls on the Council of Ministers, Defence Ministry and Economy and Finance Ministry to “implement this decision from the signing date”.
Reached yesterday, the chief of Hun Sen’s bodyguards, an elite, well-armed unit comprising several thousand troops, said the new recruits were to replace retirees.
“When they are old, they have to retire . . . how can you allow a 70-year-old to continue work,” Bun Heang asked, refusing to specify the total number of personnel in his unit. “There is nothing strange about this.”
The news, however, comes amid a notable increase in public military exercises – including the recent deployment of boats, helicopters and troops near the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s capital headquarters.
CNRP member Prince Sisowath Thomico said while 350 was a relatively insignificant number relative to the unit’s size, the fact that it continued to outgrow much of the regular military was concerning.
“I think it’s really obvious that the prime minister feels very shaky, otherwise why would he have such a strong bodyguard unit?”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton