The Defence Ministry last year announced the United Nations ranked the Kingdom 29 out of 122 countries to have sent the most peacekeepers in conflict areas around the world under the United Nations. It also highlighted the contributions of hundreds of female Royal Cambodian Armed Forces deployed along with their male counterparts. Khmer Times spoke to some of them to find out what motivated them to enlist in the armed forces and become professional peacekeepers under the UN.
Sitting in her home in Phnom Penh, Captain Heng Seakleng recalls the time she was first deployed as a UN peacekeeper in the Middle East.
Her past tours consist of operations in Mali and Lebanon, and she says family traditions motivated her to enlist in the army.
“My parents were soldiers, so since I was young, I’ve loved soldiers,” Cap Seakleng says. “Even if I am female, I have wanted to be a soldier. Now I was able to complete missions in Lebanon.”
Cap Seakleng, 24, says Lebanon is far away, in a different continent, and the country has security issues. The weather is as cool as her home in Phnom Penh, she says, but she chooses to go because she wants to gain experience abroad.
“There I maintain vehicles and work for about eight hours per day,” Cap Seakleng says. “I have to be far away from my family, but I was willing to do it.”
“There I was able to better my skills, such as language,” she adds. “My leader and my institute took care of us. I was excited to work in Lebanon.”
She says the Middle East had the impression of being unsafe for women, but as soon as she arrived, she felt secure because of her colleagues from around the world.
“I think that as a soldier, men and women can be one,” Cap Seakleng says. “I have to be strong and brave so I can wear a soldier’s uniform.”
“Now I am proud to be a soldier and I dare to work in countries far away,” she adds. “This way I can contribute to the reputations of my family and country.”
Cap Seakleng says other Cambodian women should be like her.
“I encourage our women who are strong and brave to become soldiers,” she says. “We can learn valuable skills.”
First Lieutenant Iman Malyko, 27, says she has been on tour in South Sudan since 2018. Before she began her tour, she had to be trained. She says she is now a coordinator.
“I have wanted to be a soldier since I was young,” F Lt Malyko says. “I was watching a Korean drama when I saw a female soldier deployed abroad to provide medical attention. I wanted to do that. Now I have accomplished similar missions in South Sudan.”
She says temperatures in the East African country can reach up to 49 degrees Celsius.
F Lt Malyko says there are security issues in South Sudan, and leaving her base meant getting permission from her superiors first.
“Some areas are dangerous, we would have to be careful,” she says. “We must report and get permission from our leader before going anywhere.”
“We band together and help each other out so we do not feel alone,” F Lt Malyko adds.
She says there many problems in terms of communicating with her family back home because internet services are not as widely offered there when she first arrived in South Sudan.
However, the contributions of UN peacekeepers managed to bear fruit, when the country was finally able to set up communications infrastructure.
“Nowadays is easy to contact my mother at home through Telegram,” F Lt Malyko says. “I can speak to my mother every day.”
Chenda Mony, 55, is F Lt Malyko’s mother and despite her daughter’s frequent travel to South Sudan, she still worries.
“We do not want to see our daughter work or live far away from family, this is our Khmer culture. We are worried about her safety,” Ms Mony says. “But, going to South Sudan was my daughter’s decision, so I will follow her.”
She says she is proud her daughter can contribute to peace in a different part of the world.
“It is easy to keep in touch, we have the internet so I can speak with my daughter every day,” Ms Mony says. “I know everything about her, that’s why I am not worried any more.”
“Now I do not want my daughter to just stay at home,” she adds. “I earned money to give her an education, I want to see her serve her country.”
Kosal Malinda, spokeswoman for Cambodia’s National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance, says the Kingdom between 2006 and this year sent 6,350 soldiers, including 328 women, to UN peacekeeping mission locations around the world.
Ms Malinda says 65 female soldiers are currently posted in Sudan, South Sudan, Lebanon, the Central African Republic and Mali, where they work as medics, engineers and observers.
“Female troops play important roles, especially in getting information from victims of violence,” Ms Malinda says, noting the government is committed to enlisting more female soldiers into the UN’s peacekeeping ranks. “We are committed to increasing the number of female soldiers so they can be leaders.”
“Our main challenges right now in terms of preparing female soldiers to be deployed overseas are related to language and soldiering,” she says. “The NCPF is training more women to develop their skills so they can be ready for UN peacekeeping missions.”.