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Military budget to be hiked

Military budget to be hiked

Border clashes with Thailand highlight need for better army

THE government has proposed a massive increase in military spending in next year's budget, as conflict on the border with Thailand raises fears over the Kingdom's readiness to do battle with a better-equipped foe.

"I think national defence will be one of the top priorities for the government from now on," Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker with the Cambodian People's Party, told the Post Monday.

The Council of Ministers on Friday announced it would increase defense spending by more than US$200 million from its 2007 levels. The final 2008 budget figures were not available.

Previous National Assembly budgets had been reducing national defense funding by two to four percent annually in line with the government's spending priorities.

But the shift was warranted, said Cheam Yeap

"Even if the National Assembly approves a $500 million annual budget [for defence], it will still not be enough because our current army equipment is so out of date" Cheam Yeap said.

"Our armed forces need proper military bases, good wages, healthcare, uniforms and professional army training," he added.

However, opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy expressed fears that corrupt army officials would use the sizable increase in spending as an excuse to pocket more of the national budget.

"Our country has a border conflict with Thailand, so it is necessary to increase the defense budget," said Cheam Channy, adding however, that he suspected little of the increased funding would make it to the areas where it was most needed.

Ok Socheat, an advisor to the government's coalition partner Funcinpec, welcomed the surge in funding.

But he expressed hope that, were a peaceful solution to the current standoff found, the Kingdom could once again reduce defence spending.

"Every country, once they go to war, will see their economic growth become weak," he said. "I think finding a win-win strategy is the only solution for Cambodia and Thailand."

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