04 November 2009

Cambodia Gives Big Boost to Military Budget by 23%

4 November 2009

One of Cambodia's patrol ship (photo : Military Phhotos)

PHNOM PENH, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, plans to boost defense and security spending by 23 percent next year, its budget showed on Saturday, raising the prospect of a clash with the IMF.

Cambodia plans to spend $274 million on defense and security next year, up from $223 million this year, the budget showed. The total budget for calendar 2010 was $1.97 billion, which meant the military was allocated about 14 percent of total spending.

That compares with 1.7 percent spent on agriculture, the backbone of Cambodia's economy, and 0.7 percent on water resources. About 1.7 percent was set aside for rural development.

Military spending is a sensitive topic in Cambodia because of the millions of dollars of donor money flowing into the country, largely to social programmes.

"This big budget for defense is meant for preventative measures in response to international conflicts," said government spokesman Phay Siphan.

Siphan said the spending was unrelated to tensions with neighbouring Thailand over land surrounding a 900-year-old, cliff-top Hindu temple known as Preah Vihear. Skirmishes in the border area have killed seven troops in the past year.

Thailand is challenging a U.N. decision to make the temple a world heritage site under Cambodian jurisdiction. Cambodia was awarded the temple in a 1962 international court ruling that did not determine who owns 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) next to it.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticised Cambodia last year for its military spending, leading the Cambodian government to cut back its defense budget during a debate in parliament after questioning by the IMF.

"Donors will not be happy," Ou Vireak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said of the latest military budget.

He said Prime Minister Hun Sen was likely trying to whip up nationalist support by projecting an image of a strong military at a time of heightened tension with Thailand.

"By doing so, he is turning the country effectively into a military state," he said.


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