The Cambodian navy must be ready to fight attempts to topple the Kingdom’s government, a top official said recently, in remarks that coincide with the announcement that a United States Navy battalion performing development work has been booted from the country despite having more than $800,000 of projects in the pipeline.
Deputy Commander in Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Kun Kim made the comments about potential revolution in a recent speech to sailors in Sihanoukville province, as reported by government mouthpiece Fresh News last week.
The four-star general reminded soldiers of their duties to protect the nation’s “unity” and to respect the law and the military’s disciplinary code. As such, they must “be ready to implement the leader’s orders” and “fight against any attempt to topple the government in any form”.
Though often couched in references to the law, which ostensibly requires military personnel to be politically neutral, rhetoric invoking threats to the government has long been used by senior generals as what many see as veiled threats to the opposition party.
In some instances, top generals – including Kim and Defence Minister Tea Banh, who are both members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party standing committee – have explicitly cast the opposition as a danger to the country’s stability,
Also last week, the Defence Ministry informed the US that it would “postpone indefinitely” the mission of the US Navy Mobile Construction Battalion, known as the “Seabees”, which works with RCAF counterparts to deliver community service projects across the country, according to US Embassy deputy spokesman David Josar.
The decision followed Cambodia’s move earlier in the year to suspend its annual “Angkor Sentinel” joint exercises with the US, and to scrap counterterrorism training exercises with Australian military personnel.
The military has said it suspended the programs because it was busy preparing to provide security for upcoming elections, though analysts have suggested the moves are part of the Kingdom’s shifting allegiances from the West to its major military and economic backer China.
Via email, Josar said Cambodia “did not offer a reason for their decision”.
He said that since 2008 the Seabees had completed more than $5 million in construction projects, including on maternity wards, hospital improvements, water wells and bathroom facilities for public schools.
The decision cancels more than $800,000 in projects planned for Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, Kampot, Pailin, Takeo and Tbong Khmum provinces.
“The Seabees were scheduled to build six bathroom facilities for schools and two new maternity wards in 2017, at a cost of $265,000, and an additional $550,000 in projects were planned for 2018-2019,” Josar said.
“For information about the status of these projects we refer you to the Cambodian government.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday denied that Cambodia was drawing away from the US and bolstering its relationship with Beijing.
“We respect the mutual interests of both countries,” he said, referring further questions to the Defence Ministry, whose representatives could not be reached to discuss the matter.