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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Warning as RCAF tables reform plan

Warning as RCAF tables reform plan

LT Gen Proche Bunthol, the spokesman for the General Staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) revealed that a plan had been submitted to the Council of Ministers for military reform.

One of the issues addressed in the plan was the size of the future army. The general told the Post that if the "Armed Forces of Cambodia were cut quickly, there might be a coup." In addition the general expressed pessimism about whether the RCAF General Staff would benefit from the decision to give the Ministry of Defense control of timber concessions.

In recent weeks officials of nations that are potential military aid donors to the Cambodian Army have expressed public and private concerns about giving to the RCAF because of endemic problems of discipline, corruption, and organization. Two major problems have to do with the size of the RCAF - phantom soldiers - and inflated ranks.

"We want to be a smaller, better, more efficient, and professional army. To get it we must solve the shortages that we face. The problems in the RCAF include a severe shortage of everything: financial shortages, material shortages, technical shortages. And we are still faced with the KR situation," Bunthol explained.

"After the Untac period, the Cambodian government was left with the responsibility of caring for 130,000 soldiers.

"We have started to reduce the size of the army, but we have run into problems. Funcinpec claims four divisions, the KP claim less, 2.5 divisions, and the CPP has 5-6 divisions. There are now 12 divisions.

"But there are three factional armies, and each one goes their own way. It is a difficult situation. The consequence of this independence is inflation in ranks and in the size of the army [phantom soldiers]."

"In order to change from the old system to a new system, the first problem that we have to solve is corruption. Second, we must give the real number of soldiers. Third, the military must work to increase security in the country."

"We have a plan for the reform of the army. It is already complete and has been approved by the Ministry of Defense and forwarded to the Council of Ministers. We are waiting for approval from the two prime ministers."

"We must reduce the numbers, but we must also raise the living standard of the soldiers. Barracks must be built, food provided, and those soldiers who leave the army must have skill training so that they can rejoin the civilian economy. But the international community must help in the reform effort."

"Our plan is to reduce the army to 70,000 or 80,000 soldiers. We want to have a division in each of the six military districts. But we need help to do this."

The construction of proper barracks would turn the RCAF into a centralized force from a territorial militia scattered across villages, said the general. He added that it would improve the ability of the RCAF to react on the battlefield and make training easier.

However the general warned: "If you cut the army down sharply, there may be a coup. You must let them flow out of the army on their own. If there is a growing economy that will be possible."

He said further that the attacks against Anlong Veng and Pailin revealed the true size of the other factional armies. "They told us that they could provide a certain number of soldiers, but when they went to battle, we saw that they had many fewer."

The general denied that the two offensives had been intended to reduce the numbers of Funicinpec and KP soldiers. "More CPP soldiers died in Anlong Veng than soldiers from other factions," the general said.

"The KP and Funicinpec armies led these attacks because they are deployed in these military districts. But the second and third echelons were CPP soldiers," he said.

Lt Gen Bunthol said: "At present Funcinpec is in the 5th Military Region, in the province of Oddar Meanchey. The KP are deployed from Aranyaprathet to Phnom Chhat. The CPP army is deployed from Phnom Chhat to Koh Kong."

The general spoke about what to do about the Khmer Rouge.

"To fight, the soldiers must be powerful and efficient, they must be trained. But even though I get only $20 a month, if I am asked to fight the Khmer Rouge, I must face them."

"We are weak because all of the things that we lack. We suffer from economic and military weakness. The Khmer Rouge are rich."

"The Khmer Rouge are concentrating in Preah Vihear, on the east side of the golden triangle. They may try to control Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, and Stung Treng."

The general was asked about timber concessions given to the Ministry of Defense by order of the two Prime Ministers.

"We must remember that the timber was given to the Ministry of Defense, it was not given to the Chief of the General Staff. The Minister of Defense is responsible for the political and the financial program, the General Staff is responsible for technical issues," Bunthol said.

"The decision to give the timber concessions to the Ministry of Defense gives the Cambodian government a very bad image in the international community. The cutting of timber in the provinces will continue. Maybe the flooding in Kompong Speu is due to deforestation. We also have lost credit from the World Bank. I think that the decision will be reversed."

"In the end I do not think that any of the money will come to the army," Bunthol said.

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