Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government eyes Chinese navy patrol boats to beat smugglers

Government eyes Chinese navy patrol boats to beat smugglers

Government eyes Chinese navy patrol boats to beat smugglers

The government has set up an inter-ministerial committee to explore the possibility

of purchasing Chinese military patrol boats to supplement efforts to combat smuggling

in Cambodian territorial waters, although few details are available on what kind

of deal is envisioned and who would actually use the craft if and when they are ever

bought.

The decision was taken on January 19, 2005 and the "Inter-Ministerial Working

Group" is composed of four members: HE Uk Rabun, Secretary of State of the Ministry

of Economy and Finance, as chairman; Lt. General Ung Samkhan, Commander-in-Chief

of the Navy, as vice-chairman; HE Chea Vandeth, Cabinet Chief and Advisor to Deputy

Prime Minister Sok An; and, Por Yutha, Chief of Bilateral Cooperation Office at the

Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Por Yutha confirmed the existence of the Working Group but said on February 24 that

no meetings had taken place and no decisions had been taken. He said he was not authorized

to provide any additional information and directed the Post to HE Chea Vandeth. Vandeth

was unavailable for comment.

A source at the Ministry of Defense, however, who declined to be named, said that

"it was not in the policy of the Ministry of Defense to be involved in this"

and speculated that it was some kind of "personal deal".

Military analysts are a bit puzzled by the news and speculate that the issue of purchasing

Chinese naval patrol boats was raised during Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to China

in mid 2004. They also note that National Police Chief Hok Lundy had discussed securing

patrol boats from the Chinese Ministry of National Security during his visit to China

last year as well. With the presence of Navy chief Ung Samkhan on the committee,

observers say that eliminates the possibility that the committee is looking to purchase

patrol craft for the National Police. Samkhan also could not be reached for comment,

and sources say his staff are unaware of any negotiations with the Chinese.

Several sources say discussions with the Chinese faltered over the issue of whether

loans made to purchase patrol boats would be provided on an interest-free basis or

not.

China has the largest military assistance program in Cambodia and has provided funds

to upgrade the military hospital in Phnom Penh and built barracks for the 1st Brigade,

according to defense analysts. Around 40 RCAF officers go to China each year for

military training, with some attending the Chinese Naval Staff College.

The only thing all defense analysts spoken to by the Post could agree on was that

the Cambodian Navy could use some additional patrol boats to secure its territorial

waters. Two Soviet-era Stenkas are based at Ream Naval base. They were refurbished

in the mid-1990s in Malaysia, but the Navy is chronically short of funds for fuel

and repairs.

With widespread illegal fishing by Thai and Vietnamese trawlers in Cambodian waters,

on-going smuggling by domestic and international entities and the potential for increased

petroleum exploration by Chevron/Texaco, the Navy is believed to be under-equipped

for the tasks at hand.

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