Military officials representing frontline units on the Thai border and local business leaders will mingle tonight at a gathering in Phnom Penh intended to formalize relationships between the two disparate groups, Secretary of State Prak Sokhon said yesterday.
The gathering at the Hotel Cambodiana will be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who hopes to create close ties between businessmen and “those who are at the border protecting our sovereignty,” according to the secretary of state.
“It will set up a kind of alliance—not exactly an alliance, but a kind of relationship,” Mr Sokhon said. “It’s like when two cities become sister cities.”
When asked if the outcome of the business-military get together would encompass private financial support for military units, Mr Sokhon said, “All kinds of encouragement will be welcome.”
“To sponsor a battalion—well, ‘sponsor’ is a big word, but the private companies will help as far as they can,” Mr Sokhon added. “For example, you have seen that in the past they sent food, they sent rice, vegetables and meat and so on to the border. It will be this kind of relationship.”
In the past, according to Mr Sokhon, such donations were only loosely coordinated, leaving some RCAF border units without support. The goal of tonight’s gathering is to “harmonize and coordinate all these kinds of assistance” by setting up closer and more formal relationships.
Representatives from each government ministry will also be in attendance, Mr Sokhon added.
CPP Senator and commodities tycoon Mong Reththy, the founder and head of Mong Reththy Group, said yesterday that the event had been dubbed “Oknha Alliance With the Frontline Soldiers.”
“Oknha” is an official honor bestowed on wealthy businessmen by the government.
Although Mr Reththy is currently out of the country, he said he plans to send his son to tonight’s getting-to-know-you party.
Businessman Nang Sothy, president of Royal Phosphate Ltd, also said he would attend the gathering, adding that he believed around 250 oknhas and other businessmen and businesswomen-including some overseas investors-would be in attendance to meet the troop commanders.
“Of course I will be attending,” Royal Group chairman Kith Meng said yesterday, referring all other questions to the prime minister’s cabinet, which he said had organized the event at his hotel.
Yim Phim, a one-star general and the commander of RCAF Brigade 8 in Preah Vihear province, said yesterday that representatives from several border brigades would make the trip to Phnom Penh.
“Brigade 7, Brigade 8 and Brigade 9, which are all under Division 3 led by Srey Dek, are all coming to join the party tomorrow at the Cambodiana Hotel,” Mr Phim said. Mr Dek would also be in attendance, the commander added.
In a speech delivered near the Thai-Cambodian border earlier this month, the premier, himself dressed in camouflage uniform and sporting his general’s five stars, called on all the nation’s businessmen to financially support the troops, singling out for praise several oknhas who had already made donations.
“Recently Oknha Lay Meng Khin, Oknha Kong Triv, Oknha Vinh Hour and Oknha Lou Heng Huot, as well as their wives, donated 7,000 wooden beds, at a total cost of $210,000 since one bed costs $30,” the premier said at the time. “I need 30,000 beds for the RCAF, military police and police who are standing by at the Cambodian-Thai border,” the prime minister said.
Khaou Phallaboth, president of Khaou Chuly Group, said yesterday that although he was not aware of this evening’s event, he personally gave more than $100,000 last year “to the needs of the soldiers there.”
“For the rice, noodles, mosquito nets, for digging ponds for the water, vehicles, over $100,000,” he said.
Mr Phallaboth compared donating to the military to supporting pagodas, schools and public works projects.
“I think it’s good thing to do,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)