CONTROL of the Ministry of Defense's (MoD) poorly trained, but heavily armed, village
militia has been transferred to the Ministry of Interior (Interior).
Transferring instead of disbanding the group has angered human rights groups who
say the militia have been responsible for many politically-motivated killings across
Cambodia - particularly during the last elections - and they are often used by local
authorities to bully and intimidate.
The Government has ignored calls to scrap the para-military force.
In charge of the transfer is Brig Gen Hul Sakada, First Deputy Chief of Interior's
Central Department of Means. He said the transfer is actually part of the Government's
efforts to demobilize and reform Cambo-dia's security forces, as well as gain control
The agreement to transfer control of the 33,929-man militia force, along with their
15,837 firearms, was signed by Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed
Forces Meas Sophea and National Police Chief Hok Lundy on July 11. The actual transfer
of control will take place at the provincial level between July 24 and August 31.
While under the control of the MoD, the militias were authorized to guard villages
from attack by KR or bandits, and provide intelligence information to the military
Sakada said he could not comment on why Cambodia still needed the militia during
a time of peace and when demobilization was high on the Government's agenda.
Though all militia forces in the Phnom Penh area will be disbanded, Sakada said it
will be up to provincial Governors to decide whether or not to keep them. Militia
remaining active will still be armed.
Sakada said under the MoD the militiamen had little training, but Interior intends
to give the force instruction in law and human rights.
Sakada acknowledged that in the last national elections militia were involved with
election-related violence. But he said many of the accusations of militia committing
human rights abuses were false.
"I believe people now have a better understanding of law and human rights, so
I am not worried that there will be many cases of militia being involved in human
rights abuses during the next commune election. There might be some, but they will
be minor cases," Sakada said.
A spokesperson for the human rights organization Licadho said the militia have a
long history of committing human rights abuses across Cambodia and have typically
acted as "the muscle" for police and local officials.
"The militia have been very much used by authorities to further their political
agendas through intimidation and sometimes the killing of political opponents.
"At a time when the Government is affirming its commitment towards professionalizing
its security forces and reducing their numbers, keeping on a bunch of untrained,
unprofessional civilians whose role is not clear can hardly be constructive,"
said the spokesperson.