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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lawmakers OK Military Conscription

Thursday, October 26, 2006

By Yun Samean

The National Assembly passed the controversial law on compulsory military service Wednesday, legally obliging all Cambodian men between the ages of 18 and 30 to register and, if required, serve 18 months in RCAF.

Seventy-four of the 82 lawmakers in attendance raised their hands in favor of the draconian legislation. The remaining eight lawmakers voted neither for nor against the law, after the debate was cut short when CPP and SRP lawmakers traded fierce words across the Assembly floor.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy told parliament that the draft was designed to round up a growing mass of unemployed men who are increasingly disillusioned with the political and social status quo.

"The jobless youth always oppose the government," Sam Rainsy told parliament.

"They want to change the government, they support the opposition party. [Government officials] collect up the young who would oppose them so that they can easily control them," he said.

Conscripting young Cambodian men was also a bid to disguise burgeoning unemployment figures, Sam Rainsy said, adding that none of his lawmakers voted for the legislation.

CPP Defense Minister Tea Banh told the Assembly that the law will provide vocational and physical training for Cambodia's men.

"We cannot say when there will be a war," he said. "We have to [train soldiers] when we have the opportunity during the time of peace."

SRP lawmaker Ahmad Yahya said he opposed the law because he did not believe that young people should be jailed if they refuse to join the army.

If people flee Cambodia to avoid the draft in a time of peace they may face up to two years in prison. If they avoid the draft in a time of war, they could face up to five years, according to the legislation.

Ahmad Yahya, a prominent member of Cambodia's Cham Muslims, said that Islamic scholars should be exempted from the draft, just as Buddhist monks will not be forced to serve.

Ahmad Yahya then expressed general frustration with Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, accusing it of spending too much time proclaiming the glories of January 7—the date in 1979 when Vietnamese troops toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.

"Your excellencies are always proud of January 7, even on television, in election campaigns and inside the National Assembly," Ahmad Yahya said, adding that the government that replaced the Khmer Rouge was installed by Vietnam.

The barbs were too much for CPP lawmaker Seang Nam, who shouted in response to Ahmad Yahya: "Who liberated your head? "

At that point, CPP Honorary President and National Assembry President Heng Samrin waded in to the catcalls.

"Not only Cambodia but the whole world recognizes January 7 as the day the people were liberated from the genocidal regime," Heng Samrin said.

CPP lawmaker and Assembly First Deputy President Nguon Nel said Muslim scholars would have to serve if called upon, and also chided Ahmad Yahya for his remarks regarding January 7.

"You created great confusion. And you wanted to say there is no CPP," Nguon Nel claimed. "If there was no January 7, there would be no National Assembly," he added.

Heng Samrin then called off the debate and put the draft law to a vote.

"We won't continue to discuss the draft law. We have discussed it a lot and to avoid verbal confrontation I wish the National Assembly to pass chapter five [of the law]," which allocates jail sentences for draft dodgers, Heng Samrin said.

Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Sisowath Santa voted for the law, but said there was no reason why the Buddhist clergy should be exempted from military service.

"I respect monks but the law should not avoid them," she told parliament.

CPP lawmaker Kuoy Dok also voted for the law. He added that the UN has asked Cambodian troops to serve as deminers in Sudan, which indicates that the international community now trusts Cambodia's military.

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