A live-fire exercise along the Cambodian-Lao border yesterday in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district, where a conflict with Laos arose last year, was not to demonstrate power or threaten any neighbouring countries, according to the Ministry of National Defence.
Defence Ministry spokesman General Chhum Sucheat said the exercise, which was held in the Ou Alai area of Santepheap commune, was merely training to raise awareness, strengthen knowledge and strengthen the spirit of soldiers stationed in the area.
“This is an exercise the army has conducted in the past to carry out live-fire drills in a real situation in the area near the border. It’s not a threat to any country. The area is a training location for soldiers stationed there,” he said.
Lao troops invaded the Ou Alai and Ou Ta Ngav areas in Siem Pang district in August last year over a dispute about the construction of a road near the border.
On August 11, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered thousands of troops to be deployed during the incident, while giving an ultimatum to Laos to withdraw its forces from Cambodian territory within six days.
One day later, Mr Hun Sen flew to Vientiane to talk with Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. After their talks, Laos agreed to withdraw its troops the following day.
After the confrontation, Mr Hun Sen announced the creation of Brigade 128 on August 16 to increase national defence efficiency.
Gen Sucheat said troops were not conducting live-fire exercises because of last year’s incident with Laos.
“Certainly, all military training is to increase the ability to understand battle, to increase the spirit of the army,” he said. “This is an incentive for our forces to be more powerful in the use of real weapons.”
According to an announcement from Brigade 128, the live-fire practice would occur at a weapons training course for just one day.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the army’s new strategy to ensure peace at the border was the right thing to do.
“The area is close to Laos, and as I understand, Cambodia does not want to have a dispute or be invaded by neighbouring countries,” he said.
He added that troops in other areas of the country should also carry out the exercises as training to strengthen the spirit and capability of the army.
Mr Chey said Cambodia should also organise joint exercises with the militaries of stronger nations to get new experiences in techniques or strategies in order to enhance military capabilities.
In December, hundreds of soldiers conducted a live-fire exercise in Kampong Speu province to strengthen the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces capacity to defend its territorial integrity.
The drill was held at a military training field in Samrong Tong district, and was attended by 288 ground troops from the newly formed Intervention Brigade 128 and Brigade 70.
Armoured vehicles and artillery were used during the exercise. Cambodian soldiers have in the past joined live-fire joint exercises abroad and brought back gold, silver and bronze medals for the nation.