Cambodia introduces conscription

The National Assembly of Cambodia voted in October to introduce conscription in the country. According to the new law, young men aged between 18 and 30 will be liable to serve 18 months in the military. The law also carries a prison term of up to five years for men who refuse to join the military.

Since the signing of the 1993 Peace Accords there has, officially, been no conscription in Cambodia. However, there have been attempts to reintroduce conscription in the past. In April 1994 the government approved a draft law on military service, which was rejected by parliament in March 1996. The draft law provided for an 18 months' military service for all men between the ages of 18 and 35.

The reintroduction of conscription comes despite years of international efforts to reduce the size of the Cambodian armed forces. Officially, Cambodia's military stands at more than 112,000, but as many as 40,000 of those soldiers are either disabled or elderly - still a huge military for a country with a population of 13 million. Efforts to reduce the number of troops failed since 1998, and the military is still consuming a huge amount of Cambodia's budget.

However, the move contradicts earlier announcements about the reduction of the Cambodian military. Ke Kim Yan, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said in Phnom Penh on 9 October that Cambodia will slim the army by 40,000 members and finally hold it at 70,000 in total, as part of an overall military reform. Yan made the remarks while meeting with visiting Liang Guanglie, chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, at the military headquarters.

In Cambodia, every year, about 300,000 young men reach the age of 18, with about half of the population currently being under 18. Unemployment is a major problem, especially for young people, and opposition politicians accuse the government of using conscription to hide the country's unemployment problem.

It remains to be seen how recruitment will work in practice. It is highly likely that only a small percentage of those liable for military service will be conscripted.

Sources: Refusing to Bear Arms, country report Cambodia, WRI, London, 1998; Xinhua News Agency, Cambodia to downsize troops by 40,000, 16 October 2006, The Australian, Military Conscription for Cambodian men, 25 October 2006; BBC News, Cambodia votes for conscription, 25 October 2006