AUTHORITIES have fleshed out plans that would pave the way for a new force of reserve soldiers, Cambodian officials confirmed yesterday.
The move amounts to further evidence that the government has put off a long-standing goal of scaling back the size of its military.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that authorities had approved the wording of a draft Royal decree governing the recruitment of reservists.
“It is to have reservist soldiers for the time when the country needs them,” Phay Siphan said. “They can be called at any time to serve the nation.”
According to a Council of Ministers’ statement, the draft Royal decree, which was discussed on Friday, lists a variety of prospective groups that could be eligible:
- Ex-soldiers who retired or resigned before reaching retirement age.
- Soldiers whose contracts have ended.
- Civilians who have completed their military obligations.
- “Experts who have completed cooperation on research missions” or who have been “involved directly in tasks” that benefit the public or the military.
The Royal decree is aimed at complementing the country’s controversial law on military conscription, which was passed in 2006 and allows for the conscription of Cambodian men between the ages of 18 and 30.
Chum Sambath, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, said reservist soldiers could be called on during natural disasters.
“We can’t argue against it,” he said. “All of us are reserved for the military’s purpose.”
However, Yim Sovann, a parliamentarian and spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, criticised the draft decree, saying that a reservist force should be strictly voluntary.
Money for a reservist programme would be better spent making sure existing soldiers were properly paid, he said: “We need to have professional soldiers and let them have enough salary. They will be strong and they will serve the nation when they are needed.”
Officials did not offer a timeline on when the draft Royal decree would be finalised. In June, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia would drop a pledge, dating back to 2001, to scale back the size of its military.
“I have decided not to demobilise as we have invasions from neighbouring countries,” the premier said in a speech on June 21. “Keep all the armed forces. There is no need to demobilise.”