RCAF Troops To Join US-Led Peacekeeping Exercise in Mongolia

Military officials left for Mongolia Tuesday to join a US-led peacekeeping training event, continuing Cam­bodia’s recent participation in similar US-led exercises, officials said.

A total of 43 RCAF soldiers will participate in the 16-day military train­ing exercise, said Ker Savoeun, director of the peacekeeping operations initiative for the Ministry of Defense. The first group of officers left for Ulan Bator last week.

The event, dubbed “KHAAN Quest 2007,” involves over 1,100 military officials from 21 countries, US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said by e-mail last month.

The exercises will be structured around the simulation of three fictional countries engaged in a border conflict, resulting in social unrest, terrorism, and other events that prompt the arrival of a mock UN peacekeeping force, Daigle said.

The event will be held at the Five Hills Peacekeeping Training Center in Mongolia, which the US is aiming to transform into the region’s leading peace­keeping training center, ac­cor­ding to a statement by Mark Minton, US Ambassador to Mongolia, posted on the embassy’s Web site.

The US Embassy in Mongolia did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week.

The training is being organized by the Global Peace Operations Ini­tia­tive, a five-year, $660-million program funded by the US State De­part­ment, according to the US State Depart­ment Web site.

Lao Mong Hay, senior researcher for the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, said the US was using such training to build strategic military ties with Cambodia.

Instead of becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organi­za­tion, which includes China, Russia, and four central Asian countries, Mon­golia decided to cooperate with the US by hosting these exercises, Lao Mong Hay wrote in an e-mail last month.

And by establishing the training center in Mongolia, the US might be able to shore up its presence in Cen­tral Asia to counter Russia and Chi­na’s influence, he wrote.

“The US has been using ‘peacekeeping’ or ‘disaster relief’ as the purposes of US-led joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region to make them look more humanitarian and less threatening and to get more and more countries to join in,” Lao Mong Hay added.

“These exercises have strengthened [the US] army’s ties with the armies of those countries and…its in­fluence on the governments of those countries.”

Daigle denied the US had such strategic aims in leading the exercises, maintaining that the intent was to support UN peacekeeping.

“The US Government is a strong supporter of UN Peacekeeping,” he wrote by e-mail. “Our PKO training… is intended to build the capacity of con­tributing UN Member States to participate in such operations.”

In June, the US military conducted a peacekeeping exercise for about 100 RCAF soldiers, which was also organized by the Global Peace Operations Initiative. And during the first week of July, a branch of the US Defense Department ran a five-day peacekeeping seminar in Phnom Penh involving military officers from 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including 23 Cambodians.

That seminar aimed to help mi­lita­ry leaders prepare troops for peace­keeping missions, according to a US Embassy statement at the time, which also added that the seminar was jointly sponsored by RCAF, the US Pacific Command and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

A UN official disputed this, however, saying that while the seminar’s content was developed and ap­proved by the UN DPKO, it did not receive funding from the UN.

“The seminar is not funded by DPKO, but as the information and training being disseminated is OK’ed by us, this is a type of event we try to support,” UN DPKO press officer Hernan Vales wrote by e-mail.

Daigle confirmed in a later email that the UN had “assisted in the dev­elopment of, and gave approval for, the seminar’s content.”

The US is the main donor to the UN’s peacekeeping budget and provides key political support, Vales wrote by e-mail. But in terms of uni­for­med personnel, the US ranks 42nd among the UN’s 117 troop- and po­lice-contributing countries, he added.

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia’s participation in US-led exercises did not mean it was forging a military partnership.

In April 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen turned down a request by Wash­ington to send troops to Iraq.

“We attend these military maneuvers as an independent country,” Khieu Kanharith said. “Our alliance is clear—we will participate in international missions…and send troops only under the mandate of the UN.”

(Additional reporting by Thet Sam­bath and Saing Soenthrith)


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