The Cambodian government has diverted around $1 million in funding from the national budget to a new military unit that will be at least twice the size of a usual brigade – and possibly larger, officials said.
The government decree, signed November 6 but obtained yesterday, orders that 4 billion riel be diverted to Brigade 128, a new unit ostensibly created to patrol the border in Laos. According to the decree, the money will be “for purchasing the materials supporting the troops and offering the money to the troops”.
The brigade was previously lectured by Defence Minister Tea Banh on the importance of cracking down on “colour revolutions”, and when it was created, leader Meach Samut pledged his loyalty to Hun Sen and vowed to combat any individual or group that attempted to overthrow the government.
The unit, stationed in Stung Treng, was created in the aftermath of a border dispute with Laos, and currently boasts over 3,000 troops, almost double the size of a normal brigade.
But Banh’s rhetoric led Southeast Asia expert Paul Chambers to speculate in an email that the brigade “could become a new personalized device of military loyalty to Hun Sen”.
Chum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said the brigade might number almost 10,000 in the end. Asked if the unit would be used to crack down on protesters, he would only say “the army listens to the government’s orders”.