Cambodia to Use Military for Mandatory Vaccinations in “Red Zones”

Cambodian policemen are seen at a checkpoint during lockdown to prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu

Military personnel is being deployed to implement a “compulsory” vaccination campaign in parts of Phnom Penh designated “red zone” to inoculate half a million people, said a senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces general.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered the deployment of military medical officers and soldiers to administer and manage a COVID-19 vaccination drive for Phnom Penh residents living in “red zones.” These are high-risk areas where people are not allowed to leave their homes and all business activity is banned due to a high case count.

The government on Thursday put into action a three-color zoning system to curb the spread of the disease, which registered more than 500 cases in Phnom Penh.

Eth Sarath, the RCAF’s Chief of Joint Staffs, told state-run broadcaster TVK that 900,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be used to vaccinate 571,573 residents living in “red zones.” Some residents in these communes have already been inoculated.

“We do not care who is who in the red zones. As long as they are 18 or older, all of them must be vaccinated,” Eth Sarath said on Thursday.

The campaign will start on Friday to administer 450,000 doses within the first two weeks of May, he said, and will be completed by the end of the month.

“Samdech Pichey Sena gives a command to me that these doses of vaccine must not sleep in the storages, but they instead must be injected into the body of our people,” Eth Sarath said, using an honorific used for Defense Minister Tea Banh.

“It is not voluntary or anything else. It is our obligation to get vaccinated and combat the virus.”

An Army document seen by Voice of America showed that key infantry units under the direct command of Lt. Gen. Hun Manet, the Chief of the Army and Hun Sen’s eldest son, have been tasked with assisting the vaccination campaign.

Those include Infantry Brigade 70, the Air Defense Command, the Special Military Region Command, the Army’s medical unit, and the Special Force Command – formerly called the Airborne Paramilitary Brigade 911.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey declined to comment on the vaccination drive because he said Eth Sarath’s comments were clear.

Workers receive food donations inside a 'red zone', which has stricter lockdown measures imposed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 28, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu

According to the National Institute of Statistics’ population census 2019, the nine communes designated as a “red zone” have a population of at least 400,000 residents, not including garment workers.

Russei Keo district’s Tuol Sangke I commune, which was designated a “red zone” starting Thursday, is the most populous with 86,640 residents.

Soeung Senkaruna, senior human rights officer at local rights group ADHOC, said the government should be mindful about its compulsory vaccination drive and the use of the military.

“The people’s rights and freedom to decide on whether to get vaccinated should be preserved and protected by the government to avoid criticism that the government is using coercive methods to pressure the people into getting a shot,” Soeung Senkaruna told VOA Khmer.

He said the use of military forces should be considered to be the “last resort” when civilian forces, like the police, can be used to prevent heightened tensions.

The Military Region 5’s Infantry Brigade 51 has already been dispatched to enforce lockdowns in Preah Sihanouk province and Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet.