PHNOM PENH – Though the United States’ training of Cambodia’s “abusive armed forces” has come under fire this year, a visiting senior US military official said yesterday such training would continue, noting that “great progress” was being made on rights violations.
General Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the US Army Pacific, said he expected the “same kind of partnership we have now” to continue, with potential for increased cooperation.
Brooks made the comments following a meeting in Phnom Penh with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun.
In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement hitting out at US forces for providing “training that would assist Cambodia’s military in government crackdowns on the political opposition and civil society activists” in its annual Angkor Sentinel exercise.
The group also suggested that Angkor Sentinel 2014 may have been in violation of US law, something the US Embassy strongly denied. HRW made the allegations based on allegedly incriminating photographs and videos on the joint training exercise’s official Facebook page, which the embassy said is managed by US Army Pacific.
One photograph showed a Cambodian soldier stopping a vehicle by standing in front of it with his assault rifle aimed at the windshield.
Less than two weeks after the statement was released, the images were removed.
But Brooks maintained yesterday the “prime parts” of Angkor Sentinel were training in peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.
Addressing allegations that the US military is training armed forces connected with rights violations, Brooks said this is “something that is being worked through”.
“[We] see great progress being made by Cambodia [on human rights] and as a result, our relationship continues to improve,” he said.
With numerous violent crackdowns since last year’s election, Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, said this was a “pipe dream”. RCAF is “rife with human rights abuses.… The people they are training … have checkered pasts on human rights,” he said. -By Alice Cuddy