01 November 2012

Government Mum on Tanks' Origins

01 November 2012

BMP-1 tanks are unloaded from a ship at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. Questions have been raised about the origins of the tanks. (all photos : PhnomPenhPost)

The origin of a shipment of about 100 tanks and 40 armoured personnel carriers that arrived at Sihanoukville port on Tuesday remains unknown, despite the Minister of Defence confirming the government purchased the vehicles to strengthen its military.

Photos obtained by the Post yesterday confirm the arrival of the tanks in what was one of the largest incoming shipments of military vehicles in the Kingdom’s recent history.

Minister of Defence General Tea Banh told Voice of America on Tuesday night that the government had bought the equipment, but he did not say from where or from whom.

“The importing of [the tanks and APCs as well as other military materials] is to strengthen military capacity and to upgrade and then train in new military hardware.”

Attempts to contact Banh and his spokesman, Chhun Socheat, yesterday were unsuccessful.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he had no knowledge of the shipment and was therefore in no position to comment.

A source told the Post on Tuesday that “some 100 tanks and about 40 eight- and six-wheel armoured personnel carriers” had arrived at the Sihanoukville port that morning.

 Sihanoukville Autonomous Port director Lou Kim Chhun later confirmed the shipment’s arrival, but provided no further details.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that he had not heard about the shipment and was surprised when told of its size.

Cambodia, he said, needed military equipment to protect itself in a basic sense, but it was in the country’s best interests to look at other strategies to solve existing disputes or conflict.

“Of course there are some border encroachment issues on the eastern side [of the country] and the dispute at Preah Vihear, but I don’t think the tensions require military action,” Sovann said. “We can’t solve problems by war. We have to use international code, as we are a small country and economy.”

Sovann said details of military purchases should be made public, and future transactions should be conducted with transparency through the parliament.

“There’s no reason to keep it a secret,” he said.

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