Prime Minister Hun Sen said the joint military exercise between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the People’s Army of Vietnam held from December 10-18 is to enhance disaster preparedness and strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
He said this at the graduation ceremony of the University of Health Sciences on Monday in response to Facebook users who expressed concern that exercises in Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district could pave the way for a Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
Hun Sen assured the people that the military exercise was his initiative and was held to increase mutual trust and improve emergency response capabilities.
The prime minister noted the disasters faced by the Kingdom, adding that Cambodia should conduct joint exercises with neighbouring countries to coordinate civilian-military assistance in case of such disasters.
He said: “Neighbouring countries must cooperate with us for the effective management of disasters along the border. For example, if there’s a forest fire along the Cambodian border, we must extinguish it before it spreads to the Thai or Vietnamese border.
“If the fire is from the other side, we must jointly prevent it from spreading because we are neighbouring countries and we want to protect our citizens against any possible disaster.”
Cambodia has been gripped with disaster twice, said Hun Sen. He recalled the 2011 flooding in Ratanakkiri province which had reached the border and prompted him to seek assistance from the Vietnamese army to help people along its border who could not cross into Cambodia because of the strong currents of the floods.
He said that aside from Vietnam, the Kingdom had also conducted military exercises with the US and China, among other countries.
“We previously conducted these with the US, China, and some other countries. Why can’t we conduct it with our neighbouring countries?” he asked.
Hun Sen said the exercises strengthened cooperation with nations who could provide disaster and emergency assistance similar to the relief and rescue missions conducted by the US Army, along with other countries, during the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Major General Thong Solimo, a spokesman at the General Command Headquarters of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said the exercise was being conducted to strengthen capacities to rescue people in times of disaster, and strengthen cooperation, and maintain security and public order.
“The first step is to conduct the exercise by using drones to investigate and carry out emergency rescue operations.
“The second is to disseminate information to citizens about infectious diseases at the border and the distribution of humanitarian aid. There is no invasion as claimed by the opposition,” Solimo said.
A former lawmaker of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, Ou Chanrath, said the exercise by Cambodia and Vietnam will help strengthen cooperation and relations between the two countries in disaster preparedness.
“This is an agreement between two countries and it is common to conduct such exercises to strengthen relations.
“People are sensitive when they hear the word ‘Vietnam’ and that’s why accusations without clear basis have surfaced. The government has to be careful.”
In a press release issued on Friday, the Svay Rieng provincial administration said the exercise is being conducted to share experience and to mutually benefit the people of the two countries in case of a disaster.
The joint exercise sees the participation of 471 Cambodian and 65 Vietnamese soldiers.