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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Militia: armed, untrained and transferred

Militia: armed, untrained and transferred

CONTROL of the Ministry of Defense's (MoD) poorly trained, but heavily armed, village

militia has been transferred to the Ministry of Interior (Interior).

Transferring instead of disbanding the group has angered human rights groups who

say the militia have been responsible for many politically-motivated killings across

Cambodia - particularly during the last elections - and they are often used by local

authorities to bully and intimidate.

The Government has ignored calls to scrap the para-military force.

In charge of the transfer is Brig Gen Hul Sakada, First Deputy Chief of Interior's

Central Department of Means. He said the transfer is actually part of the Government's

efforts to demobilize and reform Cambo-dia's security forces, as well as gain control

of weapons.

The agreement to transfer control of the 33,929-man militia force, along with their

15,837 firearms, was signed by Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed

Forces Meas Sophea and National Police Chief Hok Lundy on July 11. The actual transfer

of control will take place at the provincial level between July 24 and August 31.

While under the control of the MoD, the militias were authorized to guard villages

from attack by KR or bandits, and provide intelligence information to the military

or police.

Sakada said he could not comment on why Cambodia still needed the militia during

a time of peace and when demobilization was high on the Government's agenda.

Though all militia forces in the Phnom Penh area will be disbanded, Sakada said it

will be up to provincial Governors to decide whether or not to keep them. Militia

remaining active will still be armed.

Sakada said under the MoD the militiamen had little training, but Interior intends

to give the force instruction in law and human rights.

Sakada acknowledged that in the last national elections militia were involved with

election-related violence. But he said many of the accusations of militia committing

human rights abuses were false.

"I believe people now have a better understanding of law and human rights, so

I am not worried that there will be many cases of militia being involved in human

rights abuses during the next commune election. There might be some, but they will

be minor cases," Sakada said.

A spokesperson for the human rights organization Licadho said the militia have a

long history of committing human rights abuses across Cambodia and have typically

acted as "the muscle" for police and local officials.

"The militia have been very much used by authorities to further their political

agendas through intimidation and sometimes the killing of political opponents.

"At a time when the Government is affirming its commitment towards professionalizing

its security forces and reducing their numbers, keeping on a bunch of untrained,

unprofessional civilians whose role is not clear can hardly be constructive,"

said the spokesperson.

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