PHNOM PENH —
A US diplomat says military aid to Cambodia is necessary to improve the professionalism of the country’s security forces.
The US has been criticized for its military aid to Cambodia, following violent crackdowns on demonstrations this year.
But Jeff Daigle, deputy chief of mission for the US Embassy, told reporters on Tuesday that US military aid “focuses on helping the Cambodian military become more accountable, more transparent and more professional.”
“This is an important program, and we are helping the military become a partner in moving the country forward,” he said.
Human rights groups, however, have been critical of the US military program, saying Cambodian soldiers are involved in violent crackdowns on demonstrators that have become the norm in recent years.
One such operation in January pitted the elite Brigade 911 against labor demonstrators. In clashes between protesters and security forces that ensued, at least four people were killed and a boy of 16 disappeared. Human Rights Watch has said the use of military units in these kinds of operations should be cause to cease aid to them.
The US halted military aid to Cambodia in 1997, following a coup that put Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party squarely in power. Military aid was not resumed until 2006, and it remains a small portion of the $70 million the US provided Cambodia annually.
Since 2010, military personnel on both sides have undertaken joint exercises under a program called “Angkor Sentinel,” and the US continues to seek ways to engage with Cambodia, including through military means. Later this month, US Marines are scheduled to visit to provide humanitarian assistance and healthcare services to the poor.
US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said Tuesday that US engagement in Cambodia has helped “build its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, bolster its counterterrorism and maritime security abilities, and provide increased support to international peacekeeping missions.”
Cambodian defense officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but government spokesman Phay Siphan said the military cooperation between the two countries focuses on humanitarian and counter-terrorism training.