General Ith Sarath on Monday revealed more details of the upcoming Golden Dragon military exercise with China, while denying that any weapons or equipment brought to the Kingdom would remain permanently following the drills.
At a press conference, Sarath, a deputy RCAF commander, said the training exercises beginning March 17 would include mine removal and destruction, chemical weapons removal and neutralisation, hostage rescue operations and attacks on terrorist camps.
Helicopters, machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars and armoured personnel carriers will all be used in the live-fire drills hosted by Kampong Speu province’s Brigade 70.
The general also said 574 military officials will participate in the exercise – 216 Chinese soldiers and 307 Cambodian soldiers – an increase from previous estimates.
Sarath declined to comment on the cost of the exercises, but did say China would pay the bulk of it.
“You know that most of the cost will be paid by China,” he said.
Similar trainings were cancelled with the US and Australia in 2017, ostensibly because the government was too busy with the upcoming July elections. A military official, however, confirmed last week it was because of the many “conditions” placed on cooperation by the West.
“Please don’t take these countries to compare to each other,” he continued, warning journalists not to “shame” the armed forces.
Despite this disclaimer, Sarath himself briefly lashed out at the US’s recent decision to cut military aid. “There was no need for the US to suspend it, we suspended with them in 2017, before they did it,” he said.
Sarath also noted the drills with China are a “special” occasion marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties with the regional giant.
Government-affiliated media outlet Bayon TV previously reported that some equipment would stay behind as part of an aid package, a claim substantiated by the deputy commander of Brigade 70 last week, but denied by Sarath on Monday. “If their unit brings it, they come to do exercise with us and after the exercise, they bring it back,” he said.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Tea Banh assured his audience at Phnom Penh’s Defence Ministry that the exercises were “not a threat to other countries or any individual”.
Banh also said the exercise was “more special” than any other year, and would include larger weaponry than previous training events.