Kampong Speu Province
A SENIOR United States diplomat yesterday defended his country’s support of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, amid accusations that the partnership was benefiting abusive military units.
William Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, acknowledged concerns voiced with respect to military aid given to Cambodia, but emphasised that the partnership would lead to positive reforms.
“Our military relationship is about ... working toward effective defence reform, toward encouraging the kind of civil-military relationship that is essential to any healthy political system,” Burns told reporters yesterday after a ceremony marking the return of antiquities to Cambodia.
His remarks came less than a week after the US-sponsored “Angkor Sentinel” exercises, which involve roughly 1,000 military personnel from 26 countries, kicked off after Phnom Penh ceremonies.
On July 8, US-based Human Rights Watch blasted the exercises, saying participating Cambodian military units were complicit in rights abuses such as illegal land seizures, arbitrary detentions, torture and political violence.
“The US should not be training corrupt and abusive military units for global peacekeeping,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, was quoted as saying.
Other critics have since weighed in, saying the US tacitly condoned such abuses by holding the exercises in Cambodia.
Burns said yesterday, however, that all participants in the exercises were subjected to rigorous vetting. “We’re very mindful of the concerns that were expressed, but we take those into account as we conduct our military-to-military relationships,” he said.
Nonetheless, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that the criticisms had merit.
“There are very clear cases of the involvement of the military in land-grabbing,” she said.