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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Military to focus on terror defense

Military to focus on terror defense

THE Cambodian military wants to refocus its military strategy in the wake of the

September 11 attacks on the United States and the Bali bombings in October this year.

The 20-page strategic review released by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has examined

the priorities outlined in the Defense White Paper, which was released almost two

years ago. The main change is the threat of international terrorism.

"We need to develop from now," said one of the paper's authors, Brigadier-General

Suon Samnang. "The new situation has changed some of our national defense objectives.

Maritime capability was not such a priority in the White Paper, but because we need

to focus on protecting our borders, it has increased as a priority now."

The review stated that the government had recognized that porous borders, poor infrastructure

and under-equipped government agencies could make the country an attractive base

for terrorist activity.

"We need to improve cooperation among government agencies working along the

border to tackle transnational criminal activity," Samnang said.

The strategy seems in part aimed at garnering military support from the United States.

The report noted that some ASEAN countries which vowed to combat terrorism had received

help to do so, particularly from the US.

Samnang criticized recent press reports that suggested the focus on terrorism contradicted

statements by government officials here that terrorists were not present in Cambodia.

"There are no strong indications that there has been any terrorist activity

in Cambodia so far, but we know if there is, then we don't yet have sufficient capability

to handle it," he said.

"Our military assets are obsolete. The airforce has only one or two helicopters

that can fly, all our attack aircraft are grounded, and our ships are filled with

holes," he said.

"The emergence of the new threat is not just to Cambodia but to the world and

the region. Direct threats from terrorists are unlikely, but what we are concerned

about is the future, our long term strategy," he said.

Donors and policy makers have long urged that the government cut its defense budget,

saying the money should instead be spent on the social sector. Almost 20 percent

of national revenue went on defense in 2000, which observers said was unnecessary

given that the civil war had ended in the mid-1990s.

The MoD has sought extra funds in the current review, aware that while the top brass

live in luxury, most ordinary soldiers struggle to get by on extremely low salaries.

"This document has recommended a balance in the reduction of the military budget,

and an improvement in the living conditions of members of the armed services,"

said Samnang.



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