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US-backed exercises start

More than 300 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces began a 13-day military exercise yesterday alongside troops from the United States, Mongolia and Indonesia.

The second Angkor Sentinel, announced at a US-based Global Peace Operations Initiative conference in Phnom Penh in February, began at the Training School for Multinational Peace-Keeping Forces in Kampong Speu province yesterday and will conclude on May 28.

The US-backed exercise, which aims to train soldiers for United Nations peacekeeping missions, will involve 500 military personnel, including 325 RCAF soldiers, 167 US soldiers and troops from Mongolia and Indonesia.

RCAF director general of human resources, Lieutenant General Sem Sovanny, said yesterday that Angkor Sentinel 2011 was smaller compared with the first such exercise last year.

“Angkor Sentinel 2011 is not for threatening or damaging other countries,” he said.

“This exercise is for peace and charity, through protection training for pre-deployment forces, engineering training and a medical civic action programme.”

Around 1,000 personnel from 26 countries were involved in the first Angkor Sentinel exercise in July last year, which drew criticism from US-based Human Rights Watch.

At the time, HRW released a statement claiming that participating Cambodian military units were complicit in human rights abuses.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at HRW, said yesterday that the organisation had been unable to obtain information about units involved in this year’s exercise.

“We are closely monitoring the exercises and seeking additional information about who is involved from the Cambodian side,” he said via email yesterday.

“What we’re focused on is making sure that personnel from abusive RCAF units with a clear history of human rights violations are not included.”

Brigadier General Michael Liechty from the US Armed Forces said yesterday that he was unaware of the identity of RCAF soldiers participating in the exercises.

Representatives from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment yesterday.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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