In the pouring rain on Thursday, hundreds of Cambodian troops and military engineers bid farewell to Cambodia at a ceremony as they departed for yet another United Nations peacekeeping mission in war-torn Mali and South Sudan.
More than 400 troops from three army engineering, demining and military police units, who are set to leave Cambodia early Friday morning, were honored by a series of military musical performances that could be heard beyond Pochentong airbase.
The new deployment comes after two attacks on Cambodian peacekeepers in the past twelve months by guerrilla forces and militiamen in the host countries.
A deadly ambush in the Central African Republic on a traveling convoy of Cambodian troops took place in May last year, killing four of the country’s peacekeepers. Another attack in Mali in March saw a Cambodian base shelled, destroying the troop’s logistics equipment but causing no casualties.
But despite its troops have been increasingly under attack, Cambodia continues to remain committed to take part in the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission and vowed to send more troops, Royal Cambodian Armed Force’s commander-in-chief Pol Saroeun said.
“Although Cambodian troops have recently been attacked by rebel forces in Mali, Cambodia is not backing down and is absolutely struggling to sacrifice our flesh and blood, being committed to sending more troops in contribution to the peacekeeping mission under the framework of the United Nations in the cause of global peace and humanity,” Gen. Saroeun said.
The commitment expressed by the country’s top military officer echoed a statement by Prime Minister Hun Sen soon after the attack in March.
Gen. Saroeun, who previously warned of violent retaliation against anti-government protesters, also said his forces would “eliminate” the opposition ahead of the July poll “for the sake of peace.”
“Thus, in the cause of strongly protecting peace, its foundation, political stability, and the harmonization of the society, Cambodia has been required to take a serious legal action to successfully obstruct a trick to exercise the Color Revolution by the former opposition party that was attempting to topple the legitimate government,” he said.
Since 2006, Cambodia has sent more than 5,000 troops to serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East, according to the U.N. statistics, with more than 800 troops currently posted abroad.
A U.N. representative at the ceremony on Thursday did not directly address the security concerns for the Cambodian peacekeepers on U.N. missions but praised their commitment to their duties abroad.
“With your departure today, you are entering a community of nations united in the quest for peace and a better future for all,” said Alexandre Huynh, a U.N. representative presiding over the ceremony.
“In this role you will [not only] be soldiers of Cambodia, but [also] the citizens of the world. Your dedication to helping others and sharing your skills will say that your professionalism and good conduct will be a source of inspiration to many.”
The Thursday event was concluded with a swearing-in of the troops and a brief parade.
On the sidelines of the event, Sao Lyna, a military nurse whose mission to Mali would be her second deployment, said that nothing would stymie her commitment to the mission.
“Of course, there have been attacks from the rebels [in Mali]. But my fellow colleagues and I are flexible and fast to ensure no danger. Our morale remains strong, brave, and we will never deviate from our assigned service and responsibility,” she said.
“And yes, we are highly committed. That’s why we return to the mission another time.”
For military police officers like Uch Dararoth, the repeated missions abroad have become normal.
“Departing for the mission this time, I feel normal due to previous experiences I have had. Yes, there have been attacks from the rebels, but I do not feel any kind of worry since I get used to it.”
But for the troop’s family members at home, concerns are constant. Yun Seak, whose husband is departing for the demining mission, said she had to be supportive for her spouse.
“I am always concerned and fearful for my husband’s situation because things are unpredictable in the field and some people may come and mistreat [the troops], so I worry as I sleep at night,” she said, before leaving for home in Kampot’s Kampong Trach district.