Cambodia Suspends US Military Programs Until New Government Is Formed

cambodia-apc-aug-2013.jpg Children sit on motorbikes near armored personnel carriers parked in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Aug. 8, 2013.

Cambodia has decided to put off accepting military aid from the U.S. and several other countries until a new government is formed, according to U.S. officials, in the aftermath of elections which remain in dispute more than two weeks after the polls closed.

Some believe it is a preemptive move in the event Western governments decide to cut assistance to Phnom Penh if the July 28 elections are found to be flawed following opposition claims of widespread poll irregularities.

“The Cambodian government postponed a limited number of international military activities, including some programs with the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday amid doubts over the formation of a new government after both the ruling and opposition parties claimed to have won the July 28 elections.

“The Cambodian government stated that these programs were postponed, not cancelled, until a new government is formed as a result of the July 28 national elections,” the spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We do not consider this decision a change in our military ties or cooperation.”

A senior Cambodian Defense Ministry official confirmed the action at a news conference in the capital Phnom Penh but did not give any specific reasons.

“Cambodia has postponed [foreign] military cooperation in a few fields, including from the U.S., but it doesn’t mean that Cambodia will no longer accept this assistance or the U.S. military program,” Director General of the Defense Ministry’s Department of Policy & Foreign Affairs Lt. Gen. Nem Sowath said.

He also did not provide details of which programs had been put off.

“Based on the current situation, we have suspended a few programs in order to comply with the government and the current situation,” he said, adding that Cambodia would continue its “regular programs.”

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd confirmed Tuesday that he had been informed of the move by Phnom Penh, saying the postponement would remain in place until a new government is formed in the country.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf had said in Washington on Monday that Cambodia's Defense Ministry has postponed or canceled a number of programs.

She provided no details, but the Associated Press said it could be a preemptive move after U.S. lawmakers called for cuts in direct aid to Cambodia's government if the vote was not free and fair.

But Harf said the U.S. does not regard the move as a suspension of overall military ties.

Election dispute

Earlier this month, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen responded angrily to U.S. lawmakers who suggested Washington should cut aid to Phnom Penh if the elections were deemed neither free nor fair.

He said that China had stepped in to supply Cambodia with military vehicles following an earlier suspension by the U.S. and that the people of Cambodia would fund the army with their own money if the U.S. withheld aid again.

Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) on Monday announced election results reaffirming a victory for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) party after abandoning attempts to form an opposition-ruling party coalition group to probe poll irregularities.

The CPP and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were still in talks about forming a joint committee to probe the irregularities, which the CNRP has said included the removal of more than 1 million names from voter lists.

The CNRP has rejected the NEC’s results, which gave the opposition 44 percent and the CPP 49 percent of the vote, saying the announcement was “against voters’ will” and warning that they could prompt mass protests.

The popular vote tallies announced Monday were the same as provisional figures released earlier that provided the basis for the CPP claiming 68 seats of the National Assembly’s 123 seats and leaving the CNRP 55. The CNRP claims that it had won at least 63 seats in the election.

The U.S. and the EU have expressed concerns about the election irregularities and called for Cambodia to resolve them internally and in a transparent manner.

The U.S. provides more than U.S. $70 million in annual aid to Cambodia—a small portion of which includes military assistance on maritime security, counterterrorism, and humanitarian operations.

The U.S. offers military training for officers in Cambodia and conducts periodic exercises with the country’s armed forces. All three of Hun Sen’s sons have received at least some U.S. military training.

Rights groups have called for Washington to sever military ties with Phnom Penh, saying Cambodia’s armed forces are responsible for rights abuses and are too close to the country’s ruling party.

Post-election tension

Villagers prepare the body of CNRP activist Sann Soeung before placing it into a coffin in Kompong Speu, Aug. 13, 2013.
Villagers prepare the body of CNRP activist Sann Soeung before placing it into a coffin in Kompong Speu, Aug. 13, 2013.

Cambodia last week deployed extra troops and armored vehicles in Phnom Penh following the CNRP’s warnings of mass protests amid tensions in the capital.

On Monday night, CNRP activist Sann Soeung, 67, was gunned down in Kompong Speu province, according to family members, in what opposition officials labeled the first “politically motivated” killing since the NEC released its results.

Sann Soeung’s wife, Pich Ann told RFA’s Khmer Service that he had been killed by two gunmen after they knocked on the door of their home and shop in Phnom Srouch district at around 8:00 p.m. pretending they wanted to buy beer.

“He was shot in the head and died instantly,” she said.

The victim’s son, Soeung Piseth, said his father had never argued with his neighbors and that the gunmen didn’t kill him to commit a robbery, as they fled without taking anything.

“I call on [the authorities] to find the perpetrators soon,” he said.

A police official who spoke on condition of anonymity said no motive had yet been determined.

But CNRP candidate in Kompong Speu province Nuth Romdoul charged that the shooting was a politically motivated murder.

“The murder was well-planned,” he said.

“The gunmen … in seconds shot and killed him.”

The government has repeatedly urged people to remain calm and continue about their daily lives while allowing the political parties to work out the establishment of a new government.

It has previously warned that CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who traveled to the U.S. last week to attend his daughter's wedding, will be held responsible if any mass demonstrations led by his party over disputed election results turn violent and threaten public security.  

Reported by Den Ayuthya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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