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US Military Aid Could Breech US Policy, Human Rights Watch Says

A Cambodian army soldier, foreground, wears a U.N. helmet while standing guard during a U.S.-backed peacekeeping exercise dubbed "Angkor Sentinel 2014" at the Cambodian tank command headquarters in Kampong Speu province, 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Phnom Penh, file photo.

US military aid to Cambodian military forces could violate US law and policy, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday.

“US military training to Cambodia’s abusive armed forces could easily be misused against the political opposition and labor unions and may violate US law,” the group said in a statement.

Elite Cambodian security forces took part in brutal crackdowns against pro-labor and opposition demonstrators in early January, killing at least four people, injuring dozens more and detained 23 activists who are currently on trial in Phnom Penh.

Human Rights Watch said such crackdowns benefit from the training Cambodian forces receive from the US—training that is supposed to be humanitarian in nature.

Materials online, including on Facebook, show US personnel training Cambodian soldiers “in kicking down doors soon after Cambodian armed forces killed protesting workers in Phnom Penh,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While the ‘enemy’ the US is training Cambodia to defend against isn’t stated, these forces of late have only been used against opposition protesters and striking factory workers.”

The material came from joint exercises in Cambodia called Angkor Sentinel 2014.

“These and other training exercises may violate US congressional funding requirements for military training and other forms of security assistance that specifically prohibit assistance to Cambodia except in limited areas of ‘global health, food security, humanitarian demining programs, human rights training for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, or to enhance maritime security capabilities,’ Human Rights Watch said. “Video images show practice planning for what appears to be mountain fighting, while stills from Facebook pages depict what seem to be lowland counterinsurgency scenarios.

“The US Congress imposed the restrictions because of the Cambodian government’s notorious rights record,” the statement said. “A Senate report accompanying the legislation said that assistance was restricted because of ‘concern with the political situation in Cambodia and the lack of political will by the Government of Cambodia to further democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.’”

Cambodian and US officials were not immediately available for comment on the report.