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Cambodia and Vietnam Hold Joint Disaster Management Drill in Svay Rieng

In this photo taken on Dec. 7, 2018, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc attend a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Military personnel from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Vietnam will hold a five-day joint disaster relief drill starting Saturday, along the border in Svay Rieng province.

Personnel from Vietnam’s People Army will conduct the joint exercise in Cambodia, which includes RCAF’s notorious Brigade 911, which has routinely been deployed to crackdown on public demonstrations. The drill will involve a total of around 1,400 people, including 250 Vietnamese troops.

“This drill aims to strengthen and expand the traditional relations and cooperation that Cambodia enjoys [with Vietnam],” said Major General Thong Solimo, spokesperson for RCAF.

He said the drill would focus on disaster relief, humanitarian works, and maintenance of border security between the two countries.

The drill is part of an initiative by Prime Minister Hun Sen to strengthen Cambodia’s response to disasters, following the collapse of a building in Preah Sihanouk province earlier this year, killing more than two dozen Cambodian workers.

Senior Lieutenant General Phan Van Giang, Chief of the VPA’s General Staff, announced plans for the drill in late October when he visited Phnom Penh.

Ros Pharith, chief administrator for Svay Rieng provincial government, said the drill is taking place at Tuol Sdei commune -- a border area in Svay Rieng Province’s Chantrea district. He added that it would not affect rural Cambodians living in the commune.

“It would not affect farming and the inhabited areas where locals live,” Ros Pharith told VOA Khmer by phone.

The border with Vietnam has been a controversial subject in Cambodian politics, with border critics and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party alleging that the government would cede land to their eastern neighbor during border negotiations.

The government normally releases an announcement of military drills to alert the public, but has not done so for this exercise.

Em Sovannara, a political commentator, said that the lack of communication can cause confusion among the public, especially given the sensitive nature of the drill location.

“With Vietnam, Cambodia in fact has various cooperation, but many of them are not disclosed publicly leading to doubts and suspicions among domestic public opinions,” Em Sovannara told VOA Khmer by phone.

He added that the joint drill was significant, given Cambodia’s increasing proximity with China. The joint military exercises with China have escalated in the last few years, involving live ammunition drills.

Vietnam in its recently released “Defense White Paper 2019” raised concerns over “interference” and “division” in its bilateral ties with Cambodia – a veiled reference to Cambodia’s bonhomie with China.