Prime Minister Hun Sen sharply criticized the deputy head of the National Committee for Disaster Management and senior RCAF officials July 4 for their handling of the search for the airplane that crashed in Kampot province June 25.
Speaking before NCDM’s National Conference in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen took NCDM First Vice President Nhim Vanda and RCAF Deputy Commander Pol Saroeun to task, claiming they mismanaged the search and rescue effort.
“I speak the truth: If we were [all] working like Nhim Vanda and Pol Saroeun, we still would not have found the missing plane,” Hun Sen said. “I told Nhim Vanda he is weak.”
Twenty-two people were killed when PMT Air Flight U4 241 from Siem Reap International Airport to Sihanoukville’s Kang Keng Airport went down in the heavily forested mountains of Kampot on June 25.
Despite hundreds of troops being dispatched to search the area, it took nearly 48 hours to locate the aircraft, which was eventually found by a New Zealander piloting a private helicopter.
Hun Sen, who is also president of the NCDM, further chastised Nhim Vanda and Pol Saroeun for putting too much stock in rumors from local villagers and immediately running into the forest without a coherent strategy.
“There must be structure. You cannot just go into the forest,” the prime minister said. “We must have experience in using [the armed] forces otherwise it is useless to use the forces,” he said.
Hun Sen took particular exception to what he said was a lack of maps among Cambodian officials engaged in the search.
“These people are multi-starred generals, but they didn’t have maps,” he said, singling out Defense Ministry Secretary of State and four-star General Moeung Samphan as one such individual.
Hun Sen said that the authorities were so ill-prepared that they had to use maps that the prime minister’s bodyguards were using to coordinate security for the upcoming inauguration of National Route 3 in Kampot.
“Starting from today, RCAF generals and commanders, if they don’t have a map in their hands, they should be removed,” he said, adding that he had asked Defense Minister Tea Banh to investigate the handling of the Kampot search.
Hun Sen said the search revealed that Cambodia’s soldiers had grown careless now that the country was at peace, adding that the events of the search must be used as a learning experience to improve future operations.
To this end, Hun Sen ordered that all provinces produce maps for use in emergency cases, that the Ministry of Agriculture prepares a stockpile of chainsaws and the Ministry of Defense must put together a team of engineers capable of cutting open metal vehicles.
Hun Sen also urged the NCDM to better evaluate information it receives before taking action and better learn how to coordinate its forces.
Nhim Vanda, who is also a CPP lawmaker, said by telephone that he thanked the prime minister for his recommendations.
“I will incorporate [the recommendations] into our strategy for other disasters,” he said, adding that Hun Sen’s remarks will spur the NCDM to work harder.
Pol Saroeun could not be reached for comment. Tea Banh, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan and Moeung Samphan all declined to comment.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that Hun Sen should blame himself before anybody else because he was the one who appointed all the officials in question.
“We should blame the prime minister because he is charged with appointing the government cabinet…. It reflects on himself,” Son Chhay said, adding that some senior RCAF officials are often unqualified because they buy their positions instead of earning them.