Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said that tonnes of weapons were shipped to Cambodia to bolster the nation’s national defence a day after the United States announced that it would be reining back aid programmes, including military aid, because of perceived democratic setbacks.
Speaking to garment workers in Kampong Speu province, Mr Hun Sen said that “special goods” intended to defend the country had arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday night.
“Sorry for calling it special goods,” he said. “By special goods I mean they are something that needs to be kept secret. But it is not drugs. The goods are stored in containers that weigh thousands of tonnes.”
“A country must have a way to defend itself,” he added. “Defence Minister Tea Banh has worked on this; the Defence Minister has never transported flowers, but he transports weapons and ammunition.”
Mr Hun Sen did not elaborate on where the weapons originated, or if they were purchased or donated, but confirmed that heavy weapons were stored in the containers.
Mr Banh said by phone yesterday that the weapons were imported to meet the needs of the Cambodian military.
“Those weapons will be used to meet our needs, and are intended to defend the country and enhance the capacity of our military in the future,” he said.
Mr Banh also declined to specify where the weapons came from or what they included, but in January he said that China was to provide the army with tanks and armoured personnel carriers to strengthen relations between the two militaries and noted they would arrive in March.
A senior Ministry of Defence official said the equipment included heavy artillery, mortar shells, anti-aircraft weapons and other weapons for military units, and hinted that they originated from China, which has stepped up its support for Cambodia as ties with the US deteriorate.
“Every year, China provides military equipment to Cambodia based on our needs,” he said, adding that Cambodia and China have an agreement on military cooperation.
When asked about slipping military cooperation with the US, the senior military official said the Defence Ministry was not concerned.
“We are not concerned with any aid cuts from the US for the Cambodian army,” he said. “US aid cuts have no effect on our military.”
The Prime Minister’s announcement of the weapons arrival came after the White House said on Tuesday that it was suspending and curtailing several Treasury, USAID and military assistance programmes that support Cambodia’s military, taxation department and local authorities, all of which, it said, shared blame for recent instability.
The US has taken a strong stance against the dissolution of the opposition CNRP, which was dissolved in the wake of its leader Kem Sokha being jailed on treason charges after being accused of conspiring with the US to topple the government through a colour revolution.
National and international rights groups and Western nations have also decried the crackdown on the opposition ahead of the general election set for July 29.
But China, Japan and Russia have expressed continued support for the Cambodian government and its implementation of the law.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he was shocked over the US’ decision to cut off some aid to Cambodia.
“Besides being saddened and shocked over the decision…Cambodia nonetheless remains proud to maintain and continue democracy with energy,” Mr Siphan said.
Mr Siphan called the aid cut “disrespectful” and “dishonest” as the country builds democracy.
“Democracy belongs to the people, not to that party that is already dissolved,” he said. “Cambodia had a bitter experience during the interventions of the United States and Western nations, which tried to set up democracy between 1970 and 1975, and they failed,” he said.
Cambodia and China will hold their second joint Golden Dragon military exercise in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district this month.
The exercise will include 280 Cambodian soldiers and 190 Chinese soldiers, and will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.