Cambodia is to receive a shipment of 50 tanks and 44 armored personnel carriers from an Eastern European country this month, followed later by the delivery of more military vehicles, said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The 94 will arrive soon and more will arrive after,” Mr Kuong said, adding that the vehicles were to be “used for national defense.”
Mr Kuong said he did not know the exact origin of the vehicles or any other details and referred questions to the Ministry of Defense, whose spokesman, Chhum Socheat, could not be reached for comment. Other officials with the Ministry of Defense and members of RCAF were unavailable or referred questions to Mr Socheat.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, reiterated past criticism of the Cambodian military in an e-mail yesterday.
“Every time there is a major weapons purchase like this, it raises questions about the Cambodian army’s regular and ongoing abuses of human rights, whether in the context of land seizures, working for hire for commercial interests, or targeting labor or political activists,” Mr Robertson wrote.
“Will we see these armored vehicles being used in the future to intimidate and push villagers out of their homes, and abuse rights with impunity? Given the RCAF’s sorry track record on human rights, regretfully the answer will probably be ‘yes.’”
Mr Kuong called this a “really silly comment.”
“It is normal for any country to enhance the military capability to defend their territory,” he said. “We just enhance military capacity, not to intimidate our own people as crazily alleged…by HRW.”
The announced delivery of military vehicles from Eastern Europe came after a visit last week from Ivan Gasparovic, president of the Slovak Republic.
It also came during a roughly week-long visit by Defense Minister Tea Banh to China.
Cambodian and Thai troops have faced off at Preah Vihear temple since July 2008, when the 11-th century sanctuary was named a Unesco world heritage site. Armed clashes there have led to casualties on both sides.
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)