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Army gets 90 tanks and extra $16m

Army gets 90 tanks and extra $16m

T HE government has confirmed the purchase of 90 tanks from overseas, while the National Assembly has voted to give the military an extra 40 billion riels (US $16 million) this year.

Co-Minister of Defence Tea Banh said the tanks - 50 from Poland and 40 from the Czech Republic - would arrive in Cambodia soon.

He would not say when, though, because he said that would jeopardise his plans to use them.

"We will use those tanks to oppose the Khmer Rouge's preparation for fighting during the dry season," was his only comment on the government's plans.

Tea Banh would not say how much the tanks were costing, or whether they were funded from the extra money allocated to the military.

The tanks are Russian designed T-55s, which are already used by the army as mobile artillery and for personnel transportation.

Several tanks were destroyed by Khmer Rouge anti-tank weapons during fighting earlier this year at northern Anlong Veng and western Pailin.

The Revised Budget Law, which raises the Ministry of Defence's annual budget to 204 billion riels ($80 million) this year, was passed by the National Assembly with little dissent on November 22.

The law, which also gave more money to the Interior Ministry and Education Ministry, was voted for by 85 of the 95 MPs present.

Among the dissenters was BLDP Siem Riep MP Son Chhay, who asked why the army could not safeguard the security of Cambodians despite its huge funding.

" My people in Siem Reap have been killed and hundreds of their houses burned down everyday by the KR rebels.

"What are the soldiers doing? They spend a lot of money, but they have no capability to protect villagers."

Chhay sought assurances from Minister of Defence Tea Banh that the extra money would not go into the pockets of corrupt high-ranking military officials.

Tea Banh responded angrily, saying: "It is unjust that you say my soldiers are incompetent....If they are incompetent, we could not sit here today."

The minister told the assembly the additional money would be spent on Khmer Rouge defectors and to help wounded or ill soldiers in hospitals.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen supported Tea Banh, and said the money was also needed to fund the military's ongoing reforms.

Former minister of finance Sam Rainsy said the government was spending half of the total state budget on the military.

Hewarned that it should work toward peace in order to bring the increasing expenditure into line.

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