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Cambodia Commits to UN Peacekeeping

By Carl Thayer, C3S Paper No.2062


Q1. Why does the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) send troops on UN peacekeeping missions?

ANSWER: In 2006, Cambodia made its first contribution to a UN peacekeeping mission. There are four reasons why Cambodia has participated in UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations in Africa and Lebanon. First, Cambodia seeks to enhance its international prestige. Second, Cambodia’s participation in UN peacekeeping assists its integration into the international community. Third, participation in UN peacekeeping strengthena Cambodia’s relations with other countries. Fourth, participation in UN peacekeeping demonstratea Cambodia’s normative commitment to fostering peace and stability among neighbouring and regional countries. In sum, the rationale for Cambodia’s dispatch of peacekeepers was to increase Cambodia’s engagement and integration with the international community while at the same time raising its prestige.

Q2. How important do you think these missions are to the Cambodian government and the military’s international standing?

ANSWER: Cambodia’s involvement in four United Nations peacekeeping missions is very important for the country’s international standing. According to the second Defence White Paper released in 2016, “From now on, the RCAF must be more active in getting engaged in the international environment, which is an important activity for promoting its prestige. Enhancing international cooperation is not only a task of building good relations or of strengthening alliances between country and country, but it also indicates our good-will in the cause of fostering peace, stability and the protection of mutual interest among neighbouring countries and those in the same region.”

The four missions are: United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)/United Nations Mission in Southern Sudan (UNMISS), United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Q3. What kind of skills or experience does the Cambodian military have that would be useful in foreign peacekeeping missions?

ANSWER: After the restoration of peace in Cambodia in 1991, the RCAF was assigned to assist with domestic reconstruction and economic development. As a consequence, it developed a high degree of professional competence in demining and defusing unexploded ordnance and was duly accredited by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Authority. Because of the RCAF’s extensive involvement in domestic demining and ordnance disposal activities it was well placed to contribute this niche capability to UN peacekeeping operations. Beginning in 2006, for example, Cambodia contributed four consecutive mine clearance teams to UNMIS with about 135 personnel in each team.

In March 2009, Cambodia expanded the geographic scope of its involvement with the UN with the dispatch of RCAF personnel for service in Chad and the Central African Republic in MINURCAT. Cambodia’s contribution consisted of a Military Police Company and a Movement Control Unit for two six-month rotations. Cambodian military police took responsibility for movement control of UN personnel and logistics assets in eastern Chad. These RCAF personnel were replaced by a light engineering group of 80 personnel with demining and bomb disposal expertise.

In July 2010, Cambodia deployed 150 military engineers and 50 deminers to Lebanon to serve in UNIFIL. RCAF engineers were tasked with constructing bridges, roads and buildings as well as demining. RCAF initially deployed a 21-member advanced party and then a 218-strong Field Engineering Contingent equipped with manual and mechanical demining capabilities. This contingent also constructed roads, bridges, barracks, and provided humanitarian assistance by providing potable drinking water and medical treatment.

In 2012, the RCAF’s role in the South Sudan was expanded to include the dispatch of Military Police Company 702 and Company 801 (Hospital Level 2) for service with UNMISS. This new commitment involved the dispatch of a total of 150 RCAF personnel.

Since 2006, Cambodia has provided on average over 145 peacekeepers a year to several UN missions. Most of Cambodia’s peacekeepers have been field engineers responsible for demining and unexploded ordinance disposal.

Q4. What impact did UN peacekeeping forces have on Cambodia when they were sent here 22 years ago?

ANSWER: The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) comprised both civil and military components. The civil component was responsible for human rights, the organization and conduct of elections, civil administration, maintenance of law and order, repatriation and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons and rehabilitation of Cambodian infrastructure. The military was responsible for military arrangements including monitoring a cease-fire, the regroupment of the armed forces of the four parties to the Paris Agreements of October 1991 into cantonments and their disarmament, and monitoring of Cambodia’s borders to ensure the cessation of external military support to the contending parties.

UNTAC brought about a cessation of external intervention in Cambodia’s domestic affairs by China, Thailand and Vietnam. The Paris Peace Agreement brought the four warring factions together in a National Reconciliation Council that transferred Cambodia’s sovereignty to UNTAC for the period October 1991 to May 1993.

UNTAC oversaw the registration of Cambodian voters and the successful conduct of  democratic elections in May 1993.

UNTAC was successful in fostering civil society and human rights advocacy groups but unsuccessful in offering protection for these groups and providing for law and order.

UNTAC and its successor created the environment for the emergence of RCAF as a national military force. UN support assisted RCAF in orientating itself towards making a contribution to UN peacekeeping. In summary, Cambodia transitioned from a country that received UN peacekeepers to a country that provided UN peacekeepers.

Q5. Was the operation a success?

ANSWER: The electoral component was the most successful in registering voters and administering elections and also successful in resettlement of refugees and displaced persons.

The military component achieved mixed results. The ceasefire broke down. The Khmer Rouge refused to place their troops in cantonments and thus did not disarm. The armed forces of the other factions that placed their troops in cantonments later withdrew their forces and weapons. The Commander of the UNTAC military component was forced to regroup the foreign military forces to provide security during the election period in May 1993. The elections were a success but Cambodia experienced internal strife in the years immediately afterwards.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Cambodia Commits to UN Peacekeeping,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, October 23, 2014. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer).

Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email: Carlthayer@webone.com.au)

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