In bursts of smoke and flames, a portion of Cambodia’s stockpile of war-era surface-to-air missiles were destroyed Wednesday morning in a ceremony presided over by Cambodian and US officials at the RCAF Armor Center in Kompong Speu province.
Some 50 of Cambodia’s 233 portable Strela-2 missiles were dismantled and detonated by members of RCAF, the British demining agency HALO Trust and an ordnance disposal team from the US Army. The remainder will be destroyed by Friday, officials said.
The missiles were placed nose-down in 1-meter deep holes and their rockets ignited. Separately, the warheads were placed under layers of sandbags and detonated.
US Ambassador Charles Ray, who attended the ceremony, called it “a historic event in the fight against terrorism,” repeating the urgency of preventing such weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
“A terrorist attack in Cambodia would cause untold destruction and cripple an economy that is gradually and peacefully developing towards prosperity after decades of war and genocide,” he said, according to a copy of his speech.
The US, which footed the $233,000 bill for the missiles’ destruction, “will continue to aid Cambodia not only in its destruction of its obsolete weapons this morning, but also in securing its remaining weapons systems,” Ray said.
Cambodia is the first country in Asia to agree to destroy its entire cache of the missiles. Only eight countries in Latin America, Africa and Europe have given the US a commitment to destroy 100,000 of their man portable air-defense weapons.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh, who was present, also commended the move, but downplayed the risks of Cambodia’s weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
“Cambodia denies weapons trafficking and has practically implemented collecting and demolishing weapons by itself,” Tea Banh said in his speech.
Following the ceremony, Tea Banh’s counterpart, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, echoed his comments.
“Rest assured…no weapons have come out of Cambodia,” Prince Sirirath said.
In October, however, Cambodian defense officials were caught unaware by Thai government reports that surface-air-missiles may have been smuggled into Thailand from Cambodia ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum there.
Cambodia has also been implicated as a source of weapons for several regional militant groups, including Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, separatists in Indonesia’s rebellious Aceh province and rebel groups on the Thai-Burma border.
The US Embassy is also scheduled to hold a seminar this morning to discuss a new US land mine policy announced last month, embassy officials said Wednesday.
The US has been long-criticized for not supporting a worldwide ban on the use of land mines, which some have likened to a weapon of mass destruction due to the weapon’s global toll of civilian casualties.
(Additional reporting by Deutsche-Presse Agentur)