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Defence Minister speaks of ‘regret’ at homecoming

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Minister of National Defence Tea Banh was at a homecoming ceremony on Thursday marking the return of Cambodian UN peacekeepers. Supplied

Defence Minister speaks of ‘regret’ at homecoming

Minister of National Defence Tea Banh used a homecoming ceremony on Thursday marking the return of Cambodian UN peacekeepers to express his “deep regret” at criticisms the Kingdom was straying from the democratic path and failing to fully respect human rights. He said Cambodia has and is making active efforts in such areas.

Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, was addressing 184 engineering personnel, including 13 women, after they completed a one-year UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, returning safely on January 29.

He voiced frustration that some powerful countries and opposition groups did not support Cambodia as it moved forward, and instead attempted to disrupt the Kingdom’s development.

“I deeply regret those that say democracy in Cambodia is dead and human rights principles are not respected. They then seek a pretext to impose sanctions on Cambodia. They fail to see the strenuous efforts made by Cambodia and they do not recognise the progress it has made."

“I would like to appeal to them: Please look at Cambodia just as any other country. Do not treat Cambodia differently and only accuse Cambodia of killing democracy and ignoring human rights."

“Cambodia has tried very hard. It has held elections during all government mandates and fully promoted rights and freedoms. But we will not allow anyone to stir up unrest to lead Cambodia into the fire of war – we will not allow it,” he stressed.

Tea Banh said some rich countries were not very active in dispatching troops to the UN to safeguard peace around the world. However, Cambodia, despite not having many resources, had actively fulfilled its obligations to the UN to do so.

The director-general of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mines and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance, Sem Sovanny, read a report saying that for more than 12 years, Cambodia had been indispensable in peacekeeping in high-risk areas.

And he said the Kingdom would continue to do so. The Kingdom’s peacekeepers had played a key role in the clearance of mines, destruction of unexploded ordnance and digging fresh water wells.

Cambodia had dispatched peacekeepers to the Central Africa Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Chad, Lebanon, Siberia and Mali, he said.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia is determined to never cease sending blue helmet troops to fulfil UN missions, despite some Cambodian troops having sacrificed their lives,” Sovanny said.

An attack reportedly by an armed guerrilla group in the Central African Republic killed four of the Kingdom’s peacekeepers in 2017.

Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said sending peacekeepers to join UN missions was an obligation as stipulated by the Constitution.

“[UN peacekeeping missions] pertain to humanitarian operations mandated by the UN. Humanitarian missions are something Cambodia has experienced in the past."

“We went through it [with the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia] from 1992 until the 1993 national elections. So Cambodia can take all of its experience to use it in other countries around the world,” he said.

The Cambodian government has said it regards the sending of troops to fulfil UN peacekeeping duties as a source of international pride.

A National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mines and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance report shows that since 2016, Cambodia has sent 5,783 peacekeepers, of whom 277 were women, to participate in UN missions.

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