Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered that troops employ a “sky net” strategy to shoot down any drones whose operators have the temerity to overfly Cambodian territory.

The instruction came as he met with nearly 20,000 workers from 17 factories and manufacturing enterprises on June 28 in Phnom Penh.

“Another five drones have flown over the Kingdom. Perhaps because nobody shot them down previously, their operators are emboldened and will fly into our airspace again. This is why we must lay a ‘sky net’. Follow my instructions closely – we will lay a protective net from below. If we fire one or two million rounds, how can they continue to fly above us?” he asked.

“I warn any country which allows their drones to commit aggression against Cambodia. If a terrorist act takes place in our territory, we will launch an investigation, and will not hesitate to file a complaint with the UN,” he added.

He also announced a $200,000 reward to any unit that can down a drone and discover where it had come from, noting that drones had been entering the Kingdom’s airspace for nearly a week.

He called on the Cambodian people to not worry about an outbreak of war, saying that he believed some of the insurgents who were routed in Vietnam may be hiding in Cambodian territory, and that the drones may be attempting to contact them.

“There is no official explanation for why the drones were dispatched, but they may have been signalling people on the ground. Just a few days ago, two people were spotted near the border. They were chased, and one of them dropped a phone. We discovered that the phone was connected to a call from Vietnam – it was a voice speaking the language of a Vietnamese ethnic minority,” he explained.

He hinted that the insurgents may have been trained in a regional country, but did not specify where. He also floated the possibility that the drones may have been launched from a foreign vessel before they overflew the Kingdom’s borders.

On the evening of June 27, Hun Sen ordered members of the armed forces to search for any insurgents who may have entered Cambodia, describing them as “terrorists”.

“I have ordered that the forces of Military Region I work with the relevant authorities to search for any groups who are hiding within our borders. This is about more than destroying the drones – we must conduct a thorough search for any insurgents who may have fled from Vietnam to Cambodia,” he said.

He believed that the drones were likely being used as reconnaissance platforms, and were seeking to make contact with the escapees.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the Kingdom has the legal right to defend its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and the deployment of troops to down the unidentified drones is warranted.

“We have to bring the drones down so we can ascertain their origin, and determine an effective strategy to prevent similar future incidents,” he said.

He noted that, as comprehensive cooperative partners, the Vietnamese authorities must work closely with their Cambodian counterparts to resolve this matter.