Hundreds gathered at Phnom Penh’s Pochentong military air base on Thursday morning to send off a new cohort of peacekeepers to Africa.
Among the 428 blue helmets are doctors, deminers and drivers bound for Mali and South Sudan on Friday.
Cambodia currently has 813 troops in war-torn countries abroad. Since 2006, a total of 5,257 peacekeepers have served, but not all have returned home alive.
After an attack in Central African Republic (CAR) that saw four Cambodian peacekeepers killed, Prime Minister Hun Sen doubled down on the Kingdom’s commitment of troops, vowing to increase numbers.
Those departing on Friday will be sent to replace blue helmets already on the ground, according to Kosal Malida, spokesperson at the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mine and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC).
As the wet morning gave way to sweltering sun, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun told the troops that a recent attack on a UN camp in Mali would not deter them.
“Even though Cambodia army [members] had suffered an attack by the rebellious group in Mali, Cambodia does not pull back, it still continues to struggle and sacrifice fresh flesh and blood,” he said.
Saroeun, a Permanent Committee member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, also took the opportunity to lambast so-called “colour revolution”, the purported threat of which the government has repeatedly cited to justify its crackdown on its only viable political competition.
“There is no country that wants a war, because war causes destruction, breaking up and suffering. In this context, Cambodia considers peace as the first and top priority,” Saroeun said.
“So for the sake of firmly protecting peace and protecting the cornerstones of national security, political stability and prosperity of the Cambodian society, [the] nation has implemented the legal measure firmly and strictly, and successfully prevented colour revolution tricks of the former opposition party that attempted to topple the legitimate government.”
UN representative Alexandre Huynh, on the other hand, chose to extol the number of women shattering glass ceilings.
“Military service requires courage from all, but it takes special courage to break gender barriers and pursue careers in a male-dominated field,” he said.
Of the peacekeepers due to depart Friday, 24 are female, with 50 currently on mission and a total of 236 volunteering since 2006.