Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that the purchase of the 290 military trucks from China did not come out of the national budget but from his own fundraising plea.
His remarks came in response to criticism over the purchasing of the trucks as the country’s economy suffers amid the COVID-19 pandemic impacts.
Speaking during his visit to the new under-construction international airport yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said none of the national budget was used to purchase the vehicles.
“I ordered the purchase of the trucks in June last year. The trucks should have arrived in February but were delayed because of COVID-19. The trucks were built before the pandemic, but transportation was the issue because of the virus.”
He said the plan to purchase the truck was made after a 2018 dam collapse incident in southern Laos, near the Cambodia border, killed an estimated 42 people.
He said during the incident, about 1,000 troops were deployed to help evacuate people in the surrounding areas to safety.
However, he said, “At the time we faced difficulty with transportation issues as we didn’t have the capacity to move everyone.”
Therefore, he said, the trucks were ordered to facilitate any future events which would require such transportation capacity.
Mr Hun Sen said he did not use the national budget but instead fundraised from other sources to collect the money.
He also called those who criticise the truck purchases “beasts”.
“We did not use the state budget, not even a signal cent,” he said. “We only use these trucks to serve our defensive interests and the needs of the people,”
He said the trucks will assist troops in situations such as helping with the aftermath of building collapses in Sihanoukville and Kep province or assisting migrant workers at the Thai border to return home.
“When we need to move our troops, we need readily available reliable transportation. That is the reason we raised $20 million to buy the trucks for our soldiers, police and military police,” he said, stating that 290 is actually a modest amount of trucks.
Mr Hun Sen said previously, the Chinese government also donated 157 military trucks to the Kingdom.
The trucks arrived in Cambodia on June 10 via a cargo ship from China and were presented to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ units and the National Police during a handover ceremony on June 18.
The prime minister’s remarks came after Royal Cambodian Army Commander Lieutenant General Hun Manet on Thursday defended the purchase of the military trucks from China.
Speaking during the handover ceremony in Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, Lt Gen Manet who is also RCAF’s deputy commander-in-chief, denied reports that the vehicles were a donation from the Chinese government.
“We do not need to lie, If they were donated by China, then we will say it is a Chinese donation,” Lt Gen Manet said.
He added: “If it was a Chinese donation and we said we purchased the truck, would they agree?”
According to RCA spokesman Major General Mao Phalla, 250 of the 290 military trucks were given to RCAF units, with the remaining 40 given to National Police.