CAMBODIA Television Network says it is raising money to construct concrete bunkers for troops stationed along the Thai border as part of a controversial programme in which private businesses provide charitable support to the military.
Although government officials have said the donations that come through the programme will focus on humanitarian needs – including food and shelter for the families of soldiers stationed at the border – CTN director Tok Kimsay said yesterday that the station hoped to provide support for troops in potential combat.
“We are talking to people and asking them to provide charity to build concrete bunkers for the soldiers stationed at the front line,” Tok Kimsay said. “This material will protect the troops in case of war.”
Tok Kimsay said CTN was collecting both money and raw materials through a televised campaign that began on Tuesday to support the construction of bunkers along a 113-kilometre stretch of border primarily in Oddar Meanchey province.
Existing fortifications, he said, were often constructed out of earth and easily damaged by rain and flooding.
Yim Phim, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 8, said his troops had begun building concrete bunkers at the border but did
not have the resources to extend the project beyond their main encampments.
“We need more bunkers, but they require a lot of money for construction,” he said.
Tok Kimsay said CTN had collected 40 tonnes of cement thus far, and estimated that 1,000 tonnes of concrete and 500 tonnes of steel would be necessary to complete the project.
The business-military partnerships were first laid out in a document signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in February. CTN, one of the companies named as a participant, recently helped finance a 9-kilometre road for troops in Oddar Meanchey.
Though government officials have characterised the partnerships as an innocuous example of corporate charity, rights groups fear the scheme could further obscure military finances and leave troops beholden to private interests.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unfamiliar with CTN’s plans, but emphasised that businesses were not meant to finance combat-related projects.
“In principle, it should play the role of humanitarian, not warfare,” Phay Siphan said.
In addition to the corporate sponsorship scheme, the government budgeted US$277 million for military spending in 2010, a 24 percent increase from the previous year.
Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the sponsorships and increased spending were likely less about preparing for a conventional military conflict then they were an attempt by Hun Sen to stir up nationalist sentiment and ensure loyalty from the armed forces.
“It keeps the military on his side if you talk about an external threat or their importance,” Thayer said.