A SIHANOUKVILLE factory assembling custom-built ambulances for use by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan has been forced to suspend production after orders dried up in February.
But Ngorn Saing, deputy general manager of the factory, which is operated by a subsidiary of multinational products and services company RM Asia, said he expected the closure to be temporary.
"We are waiting for a new contract, which we expect to arrive soon," he said.
He added that he did not know why the orders had stopped.
RM Asia began working under contract with Ford in late 2007 to convert its four-wheel-drive light trucks into ambulances for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It began exporting the vehicles in January last year from its 200,000-square-metre factory at Sihanoukville port and had delivered 244 out of an initial contract for 300 ambulances, Ngorn Saing said.
The trucks were delivered to the factory from Ford's plants in Thailand and modified with parts imported from Australia, Thailand and Korea. Each ambulance had a price tag of US$27,000.
The comprehensive modification process involved fitting equipment ranging from air-conditioners and heaters to global positioning systems and medical equipment.
The completed ambulances were designed to carry up to five people: two patients and a nurse in the back, and a driver and nurse in the cabin.
The factory duplicated on a smaller scale RM Asia's plant in Thailand where it has been modifying vehicles for six years, including armoured vehicles for use by the US and British armed forces, and the Singaporean police.
The custom-built ambulances assembled in Sihanoukville were not armoured and were not designed for combat zones.
RM Asia is one of a few companies outside the United States to be designated by Ford as a "qualified vehicle modifier", which allows the company to modify Ford vehicles and sell them under the US automotive giant's name.
Ngorn Saing said the company was using the downtime to retrain its workers in the hope of improving product quality and qualifying for an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certificate.
"Our employees are working as normal and some of them have been trained with more skills," he said. "We are still optimistic that we will be able to continue production soon."
The company has more than 20 employees.