The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is doubling down on its recruiting efforts, building on a slick media advertising blitz launched last year and taking its message directly to the nation’s high schools in a bid to boost its ranks with an injection of diploma-wielding youths.
On Tuesday, recruiters kicked off the new campaign with a visit to Lycée Sisowath in Phnom Penh, handing out pamphlets and providing information on joining the nation’s armed forces, which are seeking to promote their officer-training programs, according to a source.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said RCAF wanted recruits with high school diplomas and strong foreign-language skills to improve the military’s human resources.
“We need people with high abilities,” Socheat said.
“They will need to take a physical and capability exam and have school degrees.
“Why do we need more? Of course now we don’t have wars, it is true. But we don’t know when a war might happen; we need to be always ready, so when there are wars, we have enough people and soldiers.”
A senior military source, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak with the media, said RCAF wanted to replenish its officer class, with many senior military officers reaching the retirement age of 60.
“This is about building human resources for RCAF,” they said.
“I am sure the team would try to hit as many high schools as they can to raise awareness.”
He said the campaign would push the benefits of military training, such as four-year cadet officer courses at the Thmat Pong Military Academy.
“Basically, it’s like going to a cadet officers school in the United States or Australia, the same concept about what the military can offer – schooling for free, after you’ve completed military service, of course,” he said.
“You get free lodgings, free medical check-ups while you are in training, and once you complete the training, your degree is equivalent to a college degree.”
The source said that while Cambodia would prefer to utilise its existing compulsory military training and service program – for which a law was actually passed in 2006 – the military lacked the budget to sustain the influx, even if the government would choose to enforce it.
At the same time, the National Police are also looking for new recruits, according to a statement on their website yesterday.
For the military, the recent efforts appear to have already paid dividends, with more than 3,000 students applying to sit the RCAF entrance exams in December last year.
Ith Sopharoth, a 17-year-old grade 12 student at Sisowath, said, after taking her examinations, she would consider taking RCAF’s six-month basic training course and trying to enter the National Defense University’s language program, to help bolster her chances of getting a scholarship abroad.
“I know the salary is not high, but it is not important, because I would like it. And it’s not a full-time job, so I can find other work,” Sopharoth said.
But while young graduates may welcome the potential opportunities, critics have long-decried the lack of reform within the unwieldy armed forces, which is often accused of serving the interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
In recent months, Defence Minister Tea Banh and top four-star generals including Kun Kim, Neang Phat and Chea Dara have launched public attacks on the opposition.
In a paper released last year studying the prime minister’s control over RCAF, academic Paul Chambers quoted 2014 statistics estimating its size – without including the premier’s personal Bodyguard Unit – at about 191,000.
“Tightly connected to both the Prime Minister and the CPP, Cambodia’s security apparatus is opaque, accountable only to the ruling party, and engages in repression with legal impunity,” wrote Chambers, a professor of international relations at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University.