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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Choppers Cambodia-bound

Choppers Cambodia-bound

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A pair of Harbin Z-9 helicopters fly near Hong Kong earlier this year. Wikimedia Commons

Cambodia's air force will be strengthened by the arrival of 12 military helicopters, including four attack choppers, from China next year, government officials said yesterday.

Prak Sokha, a spokesman for the Royal Cambodian Air Force, told the Post yesterday that 25 Cambodian pilots and mechanics were training in China in preparation for the Kingdom receiving the Chinese-made Z-9 helicopters between April and August.

“We expect that by April, some of them will finish their training and will return with two helicopters,” he said.

Of the 12 helicopters, four would be used for fighting purposes, six for general transport and two for transporting high-ranking officials, Sokha said.

These comments echoed earlier reports quoting Royal Cambodian Arm Forces commander Pol Sarouen and Royal Cambodian Air Force commander Soeung Samnang saying similar things.

“What I am not so clear on is whether the Cambodian government has bought these or whether they have been granted to us,” Sokha said.The government, boasting of a new era of cooperation with China, announced in August last year it had struck a deal with the superpower to receive a batch of Z-9 helicopters for $195 million. Media reports at the time suggested a loan from China would cover the cost.

About 100 tanks and 40 armoured personnel carriers, believed to be from Ukraine, arrived at Sihanoukville port in late October, one of the largest single shipments of military vehicles in Cambodia’s recent history.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said he was concerned about the percentage of the national budget allocated to military spending and the fact the government was making decisions about purchases without debate in parliament.

“We have doubts about equipment that is not accounted for or [deals] that are not transparent,” he said.

Chhay said military equipment from China was often expensive and of poor quality and the origin and volume of Cambodia’s military acquisitions were a topic for parliament.

“We as parliamentarians have a right to know,” he said.

Mey Vann, a director from the Ministry of Finance, could not be reached for comment.

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