Cambodian military officials on Wednesday denied that RCAF has been snubbed as an observer from this year’s Cobra Gold military exercises in Thailand as a result of the Jan 29 anti-Thai violence in Phnom Penh.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh announced in January that Cambodia had been invited, once again, to observe this year’s Cobra Gold exercises, the largest war games maneuvers in Southeast Asia.
It would have been RCAF’s second invitation to Cobra Gold and would have put Cambodian troops in the running for future active participation in the training.
However, the Bangkok Post reported Wednesday that following the downgrading of diplomatic relations since the riots, Thailand’s Supreme Command had rejected Cambodia’s application to observe the May exercises, which involve more than 20,000 troops from Thailand, the US and Singapore.
News that Cambodia was not selected as an observer nation reached the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh through the Bangkok newspapers, Lay Bun Song, the ministry’s chief of foreign affairs, said Wednesday.
Lay Bun Song said Cambodia had not yet been officially notified of the decision and, therefore, RCAF’s failure to be invited could not be considered a snub or to be linked to the events of Jan 29.
“Before the Thai Embassy attack, we did not have the official acceptance letter to be an observer,” Lay Bun Song said.
“Observing is not important, because it is done every year, and last year we already joined as an observer,” he added.
Lay Bun Song said 18 countries applied for observer status but only 10 places were available.
Co-Defense Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath also downplayed the significance of Cambodia attending the exercises and declined further comment.
A military expert said Wednesday that the long-running Cobra Gold exercises, which began in 1982, have as much to do with regional politics as military training.
The decision to exclude Cambodia likely reflects the bitterness Thailand feels over the destruction of its embassy and businesses, the expert said.