Following opening ceremonies held in Phnom Penh yesterday, few additional details emerged about this month’s US-sponsored multinational peacekeeping training event.
The US and Cambodian militaries this month are jointly hosting military exercises as part the US-sponsored Global Peace Operations Initiative, a program seeking to raise the peacekeeping capabilities of developing nations to UN standards.
US Ambassador Carol Rodley described the event as “a momentous occasion in Cambodia’s history.”
“Cambodia has distinguished itself as one of the leading peacekeeping nations in Southeast Asia,” she said in remarks delivered to open the event, adding that the training would help the country move its peacekeeping operations beyond demining and protection and prepare it to “be called upon for service anywhere in the world.”
Citing uncontrolled violence, Prime Minister Hun Sen in April 2006 said he had rejected a US request to send non-combat personnel to help stabilize Iraq.
In a statement yesterday afternoon, the US Embassy said the field exercises that are to begin Saturday will include training on checkpoint operations, patrolling, securing distribution sites, convoy operations, conducting a cordon and search, and securing disarmament sites.
But a full schedule of the event, which has been a year in the making, has not been released. A US Embassy spokesman said yesterday that he had no additional information about either the schedule or participating countries.
In his own opening remarks, General Moeng Somphan, Defense Ministry secretary of state, said 1,000 military personnel from 26 countries were in Cambodia for the training, which began yesterday with computer-simulated command post exercises in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia and eight other countries, among them Thailand, will begin field exercises in Kompong Speu province on Saturday which is the scene of continuing land disputes. Human Rights Watch last week denounced the US for its cooperation with RCAF despite its human rights record.
The government has rejected the accusations, while the US Embassy has defended its military ties with the country as a strictly vetted relationship.
During a news conference following the opening ceremony, Lieutenant General Nem Sowath, general director of the Defense Ministry’s police and foreign affairs department, said Thailand’s presence signaled an improvement in military relations between the neighbors.
Those relations have been decidedly frosty since a 2008 firefight near Preah Vihear temple along the Thai-Cambodian border claimed the lives of two RCAF soldiers. Tensions along the border had been mounting since the 11th century ruins won world heritage status from the UN earlier that year.
“We are not discriminating against any participating nation,” said Lt Gen Sowath, general director of the Defense Ministry’s police and foreign affairs department. “It also shows that we love peace by gathering military [personnel] from other countries.”
However, Colonel Nuttawut Nakanakorn of the Royal Thai Army, the leader of his country’s delegation to the training, told a reporter at yesterday’s event that Thailand’s participation did not signal any change in military relations between the two countries. He insisted the border tensions and Thailand’s decision to take part in the GPOI exercises were strictly unrelated.
“The problem at the border is the problem at the border,” he said. Col Nuttawut noted that taking part in the exercises here would help to maintain ties.
“This is a good way to have good relations between army and army,” he said.
According to the Col Nuttawut, the Thai delegation consisted of about 50 military personnel from the Thai air force, army and navy, including 10 officers. Most would be joining military personnel from Cambodia and seven other countries for field exercises at the peacekeeping training center in located at the ACO Tank Command in Kompong Speu’s Phnom Sruoch district.