Hoping to keep Cambodia’s stockpile of obsolete surface-to-air missiles out of the hands of would-be terrorists, US Ambassador Charles Ray announced Tuesday that Washington would pay for the decommissioning of warheads.
Ray said the $233,000 total bill for Cambodia’s 233-strong cache of outdated Strela-2, man portable air defense missiles, was recently approved by his government.
Cambodia is the only country in Asia to make such a commitment, which Ray described as an important component of the US-led “war on terrorism.”
Only eight countries in Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe have given the US a commitment to destroy 10,000 of the portable missile launchers. The Strela-2, referred to previously by RCAF officials as the Soviet Union-era A-72 missile, will be destroyed in the near future, said co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh.
Tea Banh said the MANPAD weapon systems had passed their “operational and mechanical expiration” date and were no longer useful in national defense. Agreeing to decommission the missiles would mean that “Cambodia would no longer be subject to any assertion of being a source for channeling this kind of weapon to criminals,” Tea Banh said.
In October, Tea Banh and other senior defense officials were caught off-guard by reports in Thailand, which claimed attempts were being made to smuggle surface-to-air missiles from Cambodia into Thailand ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Thailand’s Interior Ministry said it had received information that six surface-to-air missiles were missing from a military arms dump in a neighboring country.
Cambodia has been fingered as a source of weapons for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, guerrillas in Indonesia’s Aceh province and for rebel groups on the Thai-Burma border fighting the Rangoon junta.
The British demining organization Halo Trust and members of the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency will destroy the MANPADS, Ray said. The US team is currently in Cambodia, he said.