With the demobilization program on hold, debate on the state of the RCAF is still a contentious issue.
The opposition has criticized the government's continued promotion of military personnel,
despite calls to revive stalled efforts to demobilize the country's oversized armed
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) appointed another 214 officers to the rank
of one-, two- and three-star generals in early February.
Previously, the government has acknowledged the need to reduce the size of its military.
Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party MP, said the government has too much to lose if they
cut the armed forces down from an estimated 110,000 soldiers to about 70,000; a figure
the international community and government agreed is ample for Cambodia in a time
"I think it will be impossible for the government to think seriously about demobilizing
because the army is the backbone of totalitarianism," Chhay said. "It's
the tool used to control the population, not to serve the people."
Tea Banh, co-Minister of National Defense, justified the increase in the number of
senior officers by saying demobilization depends on World Bank funding, while promotions
were decided by the Ministry of National Defense.
"[The officers] have worked for a long time and it's time for them to be rewarded
through promotion," Banh said.
The World Bank-funded demobilization program stalled in 2003 when a $6.9 million
assistance package became tainted with corruption relating to the purchase of motorbikes
for soldiers. The government paid back $2.8 million of the misspent funds to the
World Bank in January this year.
General Soun Samnang, head of the International Relations Department at the Ministry
of National Defense, said the government is committed to demobilizing the armed forces,
but it will take time.
"We have to do it step by step, we can achieve it in the next five years, but
the defense budget is very limited," Samnang said.
He said the demobilization process needed to include military officers from the top
ranks as well.
"We had experience in the past that most of the demobilized soldiers have been
targeted in the lower levels, not including the generals, but this time our Defense
Strategic Review  recommended that we revise that policy," he said. "It
means we need to demobilize the people at every hierarchy of the military."
Former Australian defense attache to Cambodia David Mead said the RCAF already has
enough generals to support an army three times its size.
At the same time as discussing downsizing, the RCAF are awaiting approval from the
National Assembly for their proposed compulsory military service legislation.
If approved, Samnang said, the compulsory service would be "selective".
They would conscript only when necessary and draw soldiers evenly from across the
"When we downsize the military to 70 or 80 thousand, we need to start from that
point and build a fresh military force. We need to bring the young, capable, competent
people to the military, and then we take the older, unqualified people out,"
Chhay disagreed and said the call for compulsory military service is the government's
answer to the unemployment crisis facing young people.
"We don't need soldiers who are just going to be used to plant mangoes for generals
who own hundreds of thousands of [hectares of] farm land, or be forced to protect
illegal smuggling or illegal logging," Chhay said.
One point agreed on by all parties is the need to up-skill the soldiers before they
are returned to civilian life and the provision of land is the key for this.
But the best method to do this remains in question.
The World Bank demobilization program offered soldiers a $1,200 package in the form
of medical health checks, and a choice of a motorbike, sewing machine or generator
to create an income to support their families.
Brigadier General Chum Tong Heng, director of the Development Department of Command
in Chief of RCAF, said the main point for demobilized soldiers is their need for
"Giving gifts has a problem, and giving money also has a problem - the best
way is to find something else to help them, help them to find skills," Heng
"I'm concerned about soldiers finding jobs after leaving the military. Depending
on farming isn't enough to support their family, because they have been away for
a long time, and when they go back there is no land for them."
Tong Heng brought out 10 technical manuals covering various farming methods that
are to be given to soldiers before they leave the forces.
The manuals give detailed instruction on harvesting rice, growing vegetables, pig
farming, duck and chicken farming and fishing.
He said unfortunately they were not printed in time for the first 15,000 demobilized
soldiers, but they are ready for the second phase if the program begins again.
Chhay suggested an independent expert be brought in to administer funds and monitor
the soldiers' transition to civilian life.
"We need to give these soldiers land and promote soldiers into agriculture with
proper education to allow them to do farming - it will be more than just a handout
of money," he said.
Samnang said it was not the program's fault that caused the World Bank to suspend
demobilization in February 2003.
"I haven't seen any problems emerge, except the scandal, but that is not a reflection
of the program, this is a technical problem with a few people," he said.
Results from a November World Bank investigation into the scandal led to the dismissal
of five individuals and four companies from the program.
(Translation by Cheang Sokha)