Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cambodian military tests rockets

via CAAI News Media

Published: 4/03/2010
Online news: Asia

Cambodia's military mounted a rare public test of rockets on Thursday amid a lingering troop standoff over disputed territory with neighbouring Thailand.

Cambodian soldiers test fire multiple rocket launchers (BM21) at the air field in Kampong Chhnang province, some 120 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh on March 4, 2010. Cambodia's military mounted a rare public test of rockets on March 4, amid a lingering troop standoff over disputed territory with neighbouring Thailand.

In their first public drill since the country's civil war ended more than a decade ago, troops fired some 200 rockets from truck-mounted launchers at an airfield 180 kilometres from the Thai border.

Cambodian defence ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat told AFP the display was "not about flexing our muscles" against Thailand.

"The drill is not a threat or a show of force against neigbouring countries or foreign countries," Chhum Socheat said before the rockets were fired in front of assembled media and top brass.

Muffled thumps could be heard as salvos of rockets landed far from the launch site.

"It is about the strengthening of the abilities of our forces in order to fulfil the duties of national defence against invaders," Chhum Socheat added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen declared in a speech last week the rockets would be fired to gauge the quality of the Russian and Chinese-made Cold War-era weapons which have long lain unused in warehouses.

In Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban downplayed the Cambodian rocket drill and said there had been no troop reinforcements along the disputed border.

"I don't think Cambodia wants to intimidate us, as we have sent them a clear signal that we don't want the dispute to go out of control and affect people in both countries," Mr Suthep said.

We always have been making sure that the dispute will not exacerbate," Mr Suthep said. "Each side must be cautious and must not do anything that will trouble people living along the Thai-Cambodian border."

When reporters asked him whether Cambodia deliberately held the drill while Thailand was busy with its own political problems, he said it would be improbable.

Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said the drill was "nothing to do with us, they are not firing into our territory".

Cambodia and Thailand have been locked in nationalist tensions and a troop standoff at their disputed border since July 2008, when Cambodia's 11th century Preah Vihear temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

Four soldiers were killed in clashes in the temple area in 2008 and three more in a gunbattle last April. Smaller flare-ups continue to be reported between troops in the area.

The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia, which ended in 1998.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand. The exact boundary through the surrounding grounds remains in dispute.

Relations plunged further in November after Hun Sen appointed ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra as his economic adviser and then refused to extradite him to Thailand, which he fled to avoid a jail term for corruption.

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