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US training of abusive Cambodian military exposed

"It's shocking that the US military is providing armed soldiers training in kicking down doors soon after Cambodian armed forces killed protesting workers in Phnom Penh. 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"

US troops at Angkor Sentinel train Cambodian gendarmes in seizing a building in an urban environment
US troops at Angkor Sentinel train Cambodian gendarmes in seizing a building in an urban environment

US Government photo

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 US military support was evident in official publicity material and personal pages posted on Facebook during the annual "Angkor Sentinel" exercises conducted from April 21 to 30, 2014.

"It's shocking that the US military is providing armed soldiers training 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."

US military forces have provided training that would assist Cambodia's military in government crackdowns on the political opposition and civil society activists, Human Rights Watch said. This includes expanded military coordination with local political authorities and the police and a situational exercise centered on "security techniques in an urban environment." A Cambodian military video featuring the seizure of a building shows troops advancing with assault rifles and kicking down an imaginary door to enter the building while US officers supervise the exercises. A photograph on the official Angkor Sentinel Facebook page, under the caption "vehicle search technique in an urban environment" shows a Cambodian soldier stopping a vehicle by standing in front of it with his assault rifle aimed at the windshield.

US military forces have provided training that would assist Cambodia's military in government crackdowns on the political opposition and civil society activists, Human Rights Watch said. This includes expanded military coordination with local political authorities and the police and a situational exercise centered on "security techniques in an urban environment." A Cambodian military video featuring the seizure of a building shows troops advancing with assault rifles and kicking down an imaginary door to enter the building while US officers supervise the exercises. A photograph on the official Angkor Sentinel Facebook page, under the caption "vehicle search technique in an urban environment" shows a Cambodian soldier stopping a vehicle by standing in front of it with his assault rifle aimed at the windshield.

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." 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. 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."

The training during Angkor Sentinel 2014 also appears contrary to the Obama administration's security assistance policy, Human Rights Watch said. An April 2013 White House Presidential Police Directive states that one of the four "principal goals" of US security sector assistance is to "[p]romote universal values, such as good governance, transparent and accountable oversight of security forces, rule of law, transparency, accountability, delivery of fair and effective justice, and respect for human rights."

US forces' providing direct military training to security forces that have been repeatedly deployed to suppress peaceful expression and have engaged in human rights abuses is inconsistent with that policy, Human Rights Watch said.

"Congress made clear in its last budget bill that it didn't want training like this for Cambodia," Adams said. "The Pentagon needs to explain why it circumvented Congress and ensure it doesn't happen again."

Click here to read the full story on the Human Rights Watch site and view some of the images that had been posted on the Angkor Sentinel Facebook page.

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