Defense Policy Review Pinpoints Terrorism

Reversing recent government claims that Cambodia is free of terrorist threats, a defense policy paper unveiled on Thursday says the country is a potential resource base for transnational terrorists, and resources must be made available to counter dangers they pose.

A complete lack of communications infrastructure in border areas is a major obstacle to anti-terrorist and anti-crime activities, and the navy’s limited resources make Cambodia’s maritime area vulnerable to terrorist groups, according to the Defense Strat­egic Review 2002.

“While Cambodia has a weak economy, terrorist groups could choose Cambodia as a place for trafficking their resources,” ac­cording to the document, the first review in two years of Cam­bodia’s defense policy White Paper.

“Border areas, both land and sea, could be the main targets for such infiltration. Cambodia is concerned about its defense effectiveness because the skills and techniques of the Border Defense Units are inadequate,” it said.

“Cambodia needs to change its defense priorities to adapt to the current security environment,” the document says.

International assistance was key to enhance such security efforts, it says.

Earlier this year Cambodia signed on to a regional anti-terrorism initiative with Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines. The group was joined by Thailand during the recent Asean Summit.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials have said the country was not threatened by regional terror networks that are known to operate in the South­east Asian region.

But co-Defense Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath said the review “reflects the feedback drawn from the assessment on [the] current security environment, particularly the possibility of terrorist threat to the security of Cambodia.”

Refurbished obsolete and rusting military hardware, better pay and conditions for troops, in­creased roles for armed forces in humanitarian efforts and the hope for renewed US military support also figure high among priorities in the paper.

The review narrows RCAF reforms laid out in the 2000 De­fense White Paper, but now is the time for the government to put “words into action” in terms of those reforms, a military expert said on Thursday.

Demobilization—the linchpin of reform—has limped along, military units are still top-heavy with senior officers while the conditions of ordinary troops are deplorable, the expert said.

The expensive task of revamping military hardware and technological capabilities will likely need international support, possibly in the framework of the yearly do­nor meeting, the expert said.

“Defense is a legitimate responsibility of government. There is judicial reform, why not defense reform [funded by the donors]?”

But without credible RCAF reform and opening the process to international scrutiny, Cambo­dia is unlikely to find donor funding, the expert said.


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