Photo: Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
“If neighboring countries invade our country, we would be destroyed. That why we have to volunteer.”The Cambodian military has added 3,000 new recruits to bolster its ranks, and to replace retiring soldiers.
Recruitment efforts are underway to select soldiers for four separate divisions, along with a special unit based in Kratie province, said Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.
Chhum Socheat said the recruitment drive was looking for volunteers, not conscripts. “We need quality, not quantity,” he said.
The recruitment drive comes amid a tense border standoff with Thailand that is now more than three years old. The standoff over land near Preah Vihear temple prompted an outpouring of public support for the Cambodian military, but the International Court of Justice ordered a provisional demilitarization zone on Monday.
The border conflict has meant little opposition to a growing military, despite persistent problems in public health, education and other sectors.
“We should have soldiers to protect the border, because neighboring countries always have an ambition to invade Cambodia,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, told VOA Khmer.
Lao Monghay, an independent analyst, said the new recruits should not be taken all at once.
“This is a new strategy to protect national security, and we don’t have the number of military soldiers,” he said. “It is difficult to support the soldiers.”
On Sunday, military officials in Kandal province oversaw a recruitment drive there for a special unit. Po Samdy, a two-star general and deputy commander of the unit, thanked the youths and their families “for helping protect our country.”
Sem Sokleng, 22, who stood among other freshly crew-cut youths, said he had joined to protect Cambodia from “invasion.”
“I’m brave, and I want to share that with all Cambodian people,” he said.
“If neighboring countries invade our country, we would be destroyed,” said Bok Sinat, 24. “That why we have to volunteer.”
Bres Leng, 53, said he had a son who was volunteering for the unit.
“Former soldiers have allowed their sons to be soldiers,” he said.
Neang Khen, a two-star general and commander of the infantry for Region 41, told VOA Khmer he needed to add 1,000 more soldiers to his ranks to protect the border.
“A while ago, we modernized, but we don’t have enough soldiers because of aging soldiers,” he said. “So we have to replace the retired soldiers only.”