The Cambodian military’s first deployment to an international UN peacekeeping mission will begin next week, when a 10-member advance team will leave for Sudan to help clear mines in the war-torn African nation, officials said on Sunday. A total of 135 Cambodian personnel will be in Sudan by mid-April, working out of Malakal, in Sudan’s Upper Nile state, military officials said.
“It is a historic event for Cambodia. So far, we have achieved a big outcome of the de-mining in Cambodia and sent our report to the United Nations…. Later on, the United Nations sent a request to Prime Minister [Hun Sen] to organize one team to send to Sudan,” said RCAF Lieutenant Colonel Nguon Sok, the unit commander who will lead the advance team leaving on Feb 26.
Troops have been training for nearly a year in preparation for the mission, according to Major Ker Savoeun, assistant to RCAF Joint Chief of Staff General Pol Saroeun.
“We have been training for almost six months at the training school, and then another six months we had to train for UN standards,” Ker Savoeun said, adding that all Cambodian personnel had been accredited by the UN.
A ship carrying 25 military trucks, 70 mine detectors and other equipment left Sihanoukville Port on Feb 17, Ker Savoeun said. The ship should reach Sudan in three weeks.
Nguon Sok said soldiers will also be equipped with six machine guns and more than 100 AK-47 rifles for self-protection. But he said he is less concerned with the potential dangers than with the rewards.
“It is very interesting for me. I want Cambodia to be developed by sending out the troops, and after that we will bring in new techniques. When we go there, we will have many friendly countries who we can learn from. We have to know about international standards,” he said.
Mine Action Authority Deputy Secretary-General Leng Sochea said the UN will reimburse Cambodia for its part in the multimillion-dollar relief effort. Soldiers will be dispatched for one-year tours at the most, he said, but as many as seven more companies will be trained to replace them once they return.
Leng Sochea noted that Cambodia has been involved in mine-clearing since 1970.
“Cambodia must share its expertise,” he said. “It is not difficult for us, but it is very dangerous there. So we must ask the soldiers to be very vigilant.”